Years back, I worked for a physical therapist. He often said that the main reason older people fell was out of fear.
In other words, seniors internalize the thought that they’re weak. They convince themselves that walking is a danger for a person their age. They don’t walk with confidence anymore.
In the hesitation to take a step, that’s when they trip or slip. The fall may lead to a hip or head injury, which lowers confidence even more.
Physical limitations, such as declining vision or mobility restrictions, may factor into a lack of confidence. However, seniors have often spent a lifetime believing stereotypes about older people. When they reach that age — whatever age that may be — they may face a barrier within their own minds.
As we discuss ageism and its effect on seniors this month, I want to dive deeper into this concept of internal ageism.
What is Internal Ageism?
Internal ageism describes stereotypes that occur at the individual level. As we grow older, those stereotypes begin to apply to ourselves, rather than people we consider “old.”
In the same way older people may internalize their physical limitations, like a susceptibility to falling, they may assign mental limitations. They think: “The world’s moving too fast.” They feel like outcasts, like the world has gone beyond them.
So they play it safe. They lay low or take a role behind the scenes. That’s what they’ve been told will happen when they get old.
In fact, research has shown that when people are pessimistic about their own future health and generally agree that age decreases their ability to do things, they are more likely to retire early.
Is it possible to reject internal ageism?
I’ve certainly interacted with seniors who have absorbed stereotypes about their age. However, I’ve also seen seniors who reject any restrictions.
Some of our seniors are very conscious of their age, but they’ve taken it more as an honor. They declare: “I’m in my 70s, and I’m doing this. I’m doing that.” They’re proud of their activities. They’re not scared to move around.
That’s not to say that they’re perfect. Some of them do have health issues and challenges. But, in everyday conversations, they’re vocal about what those are and how potential limitations won’t deter them from what they want to do.
In their own way, they’re reversing stereotypes about what it means to age. They’re teaching us to empower them by being bold and honest in their conversations with us.
I like that. I feel like that’s a healthy place to be. I want to be in a similar place when I’m older.
Rejecting ageism starts now, at whatever age you are. Fight against negative stereotypes about getting old today so they don’t affect how you view yourself 10, 20 or 40 years from now.
As you age, embrace moving around freely. Embrace your position in life. Tell yourself: “This is where I am, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
How Can We Help?
As you address ageism within your own thoughts, I think we have a responsibility to come alongside those who are older and empower them.
My father is in his late 60s. He still gets around and is in great shape. However, he runs a lot of things through me. He’s starting to ask questions about activities he’s not familiar with.
I love to answer him. And it’s good to feel like my dad needs me. However, whenever I can, I try to empower him.
I tell him, “Hey, if I’m not around, or if I’m busy, you can look up how to do that on YouTube.” He’s getting into photography, so I’ve shown him how much he can learn just by finding a video tutorial.
When I teach someone older how to use a computer, I often start by encouraging them to face their fears and explore. It’s the same as when I used to teach kids how to play piano. I would tell the kids to play outside of practice. Maybe it’s not a song, but you get used to your hands moving on the keys.
Don’t let the seniors in your life believe that the world is moving too fast for them. Encourage them to face their own fear of doing it wrong. They can explore and learn.
In fact, technology is especially empowering to seniors. If they can think it, they can do it, and it’s not going to break.
If you’re interested in empowering a senior with technology, check out our C.A.R.E. Tech program. If you’d like to teach seniors in care centers how to use their iPads to connect, give us a call.