Caitlin Murphy 4/15/2010 CMMU3271 Age and Diversity An analysis of my own personal understanding of diversity has forced to me to take a different look at how I make sense of the following: the effect that age has on how we view people, and more importantly the value we place on people based on their age. Before this class I felt that I was aware of a good deal of the issues we touched on such as gender, race, and class. This was due to a fairly extensive background in communication courses where such issues were addressed. However, I felt that by taking this course, and more specifically by touching on the particular issue of age, I gained an understanding of this specific “difference” that I had previously overlooked, or not taken the time to understand. Let me preface this portion of my paper by stating that before this class, I rarely (and by rarely, I mean literally never consciously) considered age as a “difference”. It never really crossed my mind. Perhaps this is because I have a bit of an old soul, and tend to enjoy the company of people many years my senior and feel no “different” than them. However, after taking a look at this issue from another perspective, I realize that age really does act as a major difference that hinders people’s everyday activities. I found our activity that addressed proper age ranges for certain events to be extremely intriguing. I had never considered the “right age” for someone to be able to fall in love or to wear specific attire. But when I sat there and really thought about it, my mind really did discriminate against doing certain activities at a certain age! It really made me
think about the stereotypes we associate with age, and how this directly affects how we feel about certain “activities” done at certain ages. In a study done at Mississippi State University, it was found that, most commonly, people associate old age with dependancy; thus, younger people look at their elders as though they aren’t capable of completing everyday tasks on their own (Adams-Prince, & Morse, 2009). When we view our elders as incapable, we take away a piece of freedom that is rightfully theirs. This specific stereotype made me feel upset, especially because I grew up around grandparents who were incredibly active and self-sufficient. For instance, my grandmother, at 70, was still hiking constantly and continually exercising. Furthermore, my grandmother on my mom’s side worked in a factory until she was 65, lifting heavy boxes and doing extremely laborious activity. In fact, I honestly believe that she was stronger than most middle-aged adults. Additionally, there was an extremely interesting study done at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs regarding what students consider a “normal” day for those who are elderly. The study actually showed that the top five activities students thought elderly people did were the following: socializing, walking, watching TV, sleeping and reading (Wurtele 2009). So, despite the idea that students think elderly people walk often, they otherwise stereotype older people to be quite sedentary. It is likely that we can contribute stereotypes like this to what is known as the “deficit model of aging,” which states that getting older is a pathological condition in which the lifestyles of individuals deteriorate as they experience a “mental decline” (Allen, 2004). As a personal trainer working in a gym, I can personally go against that stereotype. The majority of my client base is over the age of 55. And I train quite a few people who are
in their late 70’s. Examples like this rebuke the idea that all old people are sedentary and inactive. After further looking into “ageism” (Allen, 2004) and the implications the elderly experience from discrimination, I found it extremely intriguing that a majority of people literally found it repulsive when asked about the elderly and sexual activity. In fact, in a study done at a nursing home, when nurses were prompted on the topic of sexual activity within the home, it was recorded that nurses literally reacted with faces and comments that eluded to pure disgust (Melby, 2010). An article in the Journal of Contemporary Sexuality addresses the issues surrounding age and the idea of sex. The author reminds us that, although they may be old, we cannot expect them to disregard desire; and furthermore, we cannot expect them to have no desire in the first place (Melby, 2010). And, although many of us believe that those who are older do not engage is sexual activity, the study done for the article featured in this particular journal showed that at least 1 in every 4 persons over the age of 75 do, in fact, engage in some sort of sexual activity (Melby, 2010). What I find most sad about this issue is that there is so much harsh discrimination and ageism happening when we talk about sex and the elderly, that it has truly become a taboo subject, even for them! Thus, making the topic of sex one that is not easily approached by those engaging in sexual activity, and often times leaving them feeling guilty or alone with no one to talk to. The taboo nature of sex in the elderly community leads to further problems including sexual education (Melby, 2010). As a young person, I never even considered that elderly people would need something like a sexual education course. I figured that the knowledge about sex was similar across the boards, and if you learned it once, you wouldn’t need to be taught it
again. However, in the article written by Melby, he addresses the fact the sexual issues and education for older people is very much so different than the education of younger people. For example, Melby points out the physical differences that come with age and the implications those differences may have on sexual activity. Furthermore, as an older person, most are subject to the continual taking of certain medications which may lead to difficulties in sexual activity (Melby, 2010). Our leaving out, if you will, of elderly people from the topic of sex can be attributed to the “communication accommodation theory” (Allen, 2004). Like this theory states, we often change our conversational strategies, in this case, leaving topics entirely out of any conversation. When we get around older people, we find it hard to discuss “awkward” topics like sex, so instead we simply leave it out and expect for the elderly to just deal with it.
It is unfortunate that
our extreme ageism and utter disgust we feel toward the subject in this society prevents these individuals from receiving the proper information that may help them to lead better ,more healthy sex lives. It is as though, once you reach a certain age, we, as a culture, define you as dispensable, or nonessential; thus leading us to treat older people as though they don’t matter and robbing them of their right to their own education’s which would allow for healthier, happier lives. Delving deeper into the issue of ageism has helped me to gain a new perspective on the topic. I became frustrated at certain times while reading about these matters because some of the points of views seem very unfair and made me feel as though people really, truly disregard the older people in their lives as though their feelings, needs, and desires do not matter. It made me feel very sad that the majority assumption was that all old people live sedentary, boring lifestyles that contribute
nothing and accomplish nothing. Having done further research on the topic, I feel comfortable in my ability to consciously be aware of how I view older people and more importantly how I value them. The bottom line that I have really come to understand through all of this is that older people are simply human, just like I am. One day, indeed, I will be an older person myself. To discriminate based on age is outrageous. To devalue someone because they are over the age of sixty is a horrendous crime against humanity. This issue sparked something inside of me that I cannot properly describe, except for to say that I will never view aging the same again.
Citations Adams-Prince, C.E., & Morse, L.W. (2009). Dependency stereotypes and aging: the implications for getting and giving help in later life. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39(12), Retrieved from http://0web.ebscohost.com.skyline.ucdenver.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? vid=9&hid=11&sid=f501451b-cb45-42c5-8fb5-d1a2eac1a148%40sessionmgr12 Wurtele, Sandy K.(2009) '“Activities of Older Adults” Survey: Tapping into Student Views of the Elderly', Educational Gerontology, 35: 11, 1026 — 1031 Melby, T. (2010). Sexuality for the young and old. Contemporary sexuality, 44(1), Retrieved from http://0-web.ebscohost.com.skyline.ucdenver.edu/