The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) have been highlighting ageism for almost 20 years. Put simply, ageism can be described as a prejudice towards people because of their chronological age. It is usually older people who are subjected to ageism.
“Both in the media and in popular culture, you will hear words and phrases loaded with ageism on a daily basis. It might be obvious things such as Miss Li’s latest single being called Ålderdomshemmet (Old people’s home). In Sweden, that word disappeared as a designation more than 30 years ago and is never used by anyone with current knowledge of health care and social services and various forms of accommodation for older people,” says Susanne Iwarsson, professor of gerontology at Lund University.
Concrete tips for journalists and communications officers
To assist in combatting ageism, researchers at Lund University have produced concrete advice on how those working in communications, such as correspondents, communications officers, journalists, photographers, researchers and editors, can go about things to avoid discriminatory descriptions of older people.
“The way older people are presented in the media affects attitudes and behaviour more than we think. We want this quick guide to increase awareness of the power of language and images,” says Susanne Iwarsson.
In the guide, there is concrete advice about alternative ways of expression. The guide is aimed at all roles working with text and images.
“Despite the fact that we actually become more dissimilar as we age, older people are often presented as fragile, vulnerable or lonely. Other stereotypes portray older people as inquisitive, creative and active,” says Susanne Iwarsson.
She says there is a need for language and images appropriate to the diversity that characterises the ageing population, since our era is largely characterised by rapid communication in many different forms.
“If we can increase awareness of the way in which we describe people of different ages, we will have come a little way towards combatting ageism,” says Susanne Iwarsson.