Catch 66

Positive Discrimination for Seniors (Sometimes)

Discrimination undermines confidence and capacity. When anyone experiences repeated instances of discrimination, the impact is to lessen their view of themselves and their understanding of their abilities.

I did some research by asking seniors about their experiences. The answers couldn’t have been more diverse, varying from, “I don’t experience discrimination as a senior” to “I am excluded from society” and nearly everything in between. Additionally, while some seniors experience certain events as discrimination others view the same responses as supportive and positive. It appears younger and older seniors saw discrimination quite differently. Younger seniors were more likely to experience negative discrimination, while older seniors were more positive.

For younger seniors, there definitely was a sense that they were discriminated negatively. The comments, “I am excluded from society” or, “I cannot find employment despite my considerable experience and capacities” came from this group, related primarily to employment. Retirement can create a big sense of loss. Younger seniors see themselves as no different than any other adult and so responded negatively to being called “dear,” being asked if they would like the seniors’ discount, or being asked if they need help.

It appears younger and older seniors saw discrimination quite differently. Younger seniors were more likely to experience negative discrimination, while older seniors were more positive.

Men and women likely experience discrimination due to aging differently. Women are accustomed to discrimination and have learned to cope, adapt, ignore, or confront depending on the issue and their mood. Men, on the other hand, may not have experienced discrimination as much and so likely have a harder time adjusting to the lack of power and authority. We know for example that when elderly men lose their driver’s licence it is seen as a great loss of control in their lives.

For older seniors, let’s say those over 80 and those with health and mobility issues, the same events are seen as positive and helpful. The older seniors I spoke with said they found being asked if they needed help as supportive. They were appreciative of the care bus drivers took in waiting until they were safely seated, or the help from DATS drivers. They noted that whenever they have had a fall, people around them were quick to offer assistance. They also felt they were treated well in stores and generally by the public.

Does age discrimination exist? Why else would the City of Edmonton need to develop an age friendly policy? Some of these policies relate to making changes to accommodate changing capacity, but some of it is about attitudes to aging. Given my unscientific survey, I would say that generally Edmonton is an age friendly city for older seniors and that many seniors feel safe and secure. It is clear though that younger seniors bristle when there is any suggestion of incapacity. Call us “dear” at your own risk!

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Janis Irwin MLA
Vista Housing

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