NARI was very pleased to celebrate the International Day of Older Persons on October 1, and Australia’s first Ageism Awareness Day. NARI’s vision is “a world where older people are respected, healthy and included”, and part of our approach to achieving this vision is to combat ageism in all its forms. We were therefore very happy to promote the Australian theme of “Ageism. Know it. Name it”.

Ageism is pervasive and damaging to both younger and older people. It is the only “ism” that is still present in everyday interactions, conversations, humour, and behaviour and largely goes unremarked upon.

NARI held a virtual morning tea for our volunteers and community advisors, who gave numerous examples of ageism that occurs in their everyday lives – such as being told they don’t look their age (as if it is a compliment), being ignored or overlooked in shops, assumptions being made that they don’t know how to use IT, and having conversations directed at younger family members as if they can’t speak for themselves. They also spoke of their difficulties securing employment, reaching the interview stage only to be told that they don’t “fit the culture”.

One of the ways in which ageism manifests itself is in the “othering” of older people. This involves grouping all older people together as if they all share the same characteristics. There are many negative stereotypes of older people that are reflected in the language that we use – for example, use of the term “elderly” or “the elderly” brings to mind a person or group of people who are frail, care dependent, and vulnerable. While some older people may be frail, care dependent and vulnerable, this description does not apply to the majority of older people, and most older people do not like to be described as elderly.

One of NARI’s six strategic objectives is to promote accurate information about ageing and older people. It is important to us that we use language that is accurate, specific and descriptive, and avoids generalisations and stereotypes. To this end, NARI has developed an age positive language guide, Strategies for combatting ageism through age positive language, which provides practical examples of how words, phrases, and images can better portray older people and combat ageism, particularly in research.

I encourage everyone to take the time to consider how their words, phrases, and use of images may be inadvertently perpetuating ageism – let’s make sure we know it, and name it.