OPINION: Don’t call me cutie pie, and I’m not on blood thinners

The problem with ageism

It was a few days ago that a waitress in her early 20s delivered lunch to my table with a chirpy little, “Here you go, cutie-pie!”.

Now, I am well into my 60s and I do not labour under any illusions that 20-year-old females find me to be a “cutie-pie.”

It caused me to reflect on what was actually going on and I settled on the fact that this was just another example, albeit a rather benign example, of the pervasive ageism that we’ve come to accept in our society.

This waitress felt comfortable in infantilizing me, assuming that, as an old fogey, I would find her approach acceptable, even complimentary.

Yet, I doubt that she would have called a person of colour “boy” or would, herself put up with a waiter calling her “sweet cheeks” the next time she was out for a meal.

In another more serious example, a colleague recently recounted how, having gone to the hospital for a routine medical test, the nurse glanced at his grey hair and asked him if he was on blood thinners. Now, this person is an avid marathoner and has the resting heart rate of a Galapagos tortoise. The young nurse, he estimated, was 30 lbs overweight and puffed a little when she walked.

So, the question arises as to whether she would have asked the same question of a younger man. Probably not.

That contention is borne out by recent research that showed that more than 80 per cent of seniors report experiencing age discrimination from health care professionals and that most of that discrimination (56 per cent) is initiated by younger adults.

Often that discrimination can be insidious, involving legitimate medical complaints being dismissed as an inevitable sign of aging.

Studies show that patients over 70 years of age experienced considerable delays between admission and surgery and older patients also experienced delays in transfer to a specialized treatment centre.

But ageism transcends the medical environment.

It’s a common problem in the workplace where older workers are often assumed to be technologically inept, slower, and less innovative than their younger counterparts. The truth, as shown in a recent Harvard study, is very different.

Aging, they said, boosts our ability to see the big picture, weighing multiple points of view and spotting patterns and details that open the door to finding a solution to problems.

And there is also no evidence that older adults are less capable of adapting to new technologies or that young people are all technological whiz kids.

I could go on, but what’s the point?

What needs to change are the attitudes toward an aging population and the tolerance of ageist behaviours.

Ageist comments, black balloons at birthday parties and those stupid ads that maintain that, by my age, I should be looking into a walk-in tub or a stair lift all need to change.

And the next 140-pound clerk who condescendingly assumes that I need help with my bag of mulch is going to be told that I still bench more than 200 pounds and that maybe he should hit the gym.

A few years back the Toronto Dominion Bank ran an ad campaign later dubbed the “old fart” ads. It had two elderly men sitting on a park bench (because that’s what old people do), totally flummoxed by the fact that the bank was open on weekends. In one ad they even began to doubt the day of the week, reasoning that it couldn’t be Saturday if the bank was open.

Yeah, old folks are like that. So silly, but so cute – real cutie-pies.

•••

Tim Collins is a Sooke News Mirror reporter.

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