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The effects of ageism on quality of life for seniors

Editor’s Note: Schlegel Villages manages multiple locations offering long-term-care and retirement housing in Ontario. Fifteen of its locations are accredited by CARF for Person-Centered Long-Term Care Community programs.

By Ted Mahy, online engagement manager, Schlegel Villages (

It is in our human nature to form preconceptions based on characteristics that stand out to us. Though some may say age is just a number, ageism, as with biases based on gender or nationality, can cause subtle prejudice. It is a form of discrimination that is often overlooked, but can be noticed in all walks of life.

Some examples of ageism include:

  • Marketing mostly being directed at a young audience.
  • Loss of control and deterioration are perceived to be natural parts of the aging process, so age is assumed to identify need or disability.
  • Cultural perception that being around the elderly is undesirable (i.e., people not visiting a venue because “old people go there”).

These kinds of prejudices rob seniors of choice, independence, and dignity. The effects of aegism show up in Schlegel Villages’ Quality of Life (QoL) survey results for seniors housed in a variety of settings who are made to feel unwelcome. If individuals don’t feel comfortable in a certain location due to how they are treated, whether it is a business or a public park, they are unlikely to go there again. As this feeling happens more and more, persons may start to not want to go out and may become socially isolated.

A low score we often see on QoL surveys is in response to the “People ask for my help and advice” question. Oftentimes, people will offer support and advice to elders without thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom they have to offer back. The low score on this question shows us that, even within our Retirement and Long-Term Care villages, elders often do not feel as though they offer anything of value to their community.

Within communities, we need to be more welcoming to our elders and be inclusive of any ability or need that they may have. We should always try to learn from them by asking for advice and support whenever possible. To encourage these things, and acknowledge that all seniors have stories and wisdom to share, Schlegel Villages conducted the #ElderWisdom Green Bench project this summer.

In the Elder Wisdom campaign, external community members and internal staff were encouraged to interact with a senior, ask for advice, and learn from his or her many years of knowledge and experience. The campaign hosted 13 events in several cities across Ontario where there are Schlegel Village Retirement and Long-Term Care homes. A participating resident would sit on a green bench embossed with the social-media hashtag #ElderWisdom, while community members stopped to chat. Community members were then invited to share their experiences on social media using the hashtag.

The campaign was extremely positive for all involved. We asked participating seniors about their experience connecting with people, and this is what one of them shared:

David Kent

David Kent
Resident of The Village of Erin Meadows
78 years old but says he acts as a 58-year-old

What is a good description or illustration of the effects of ageism?
“Some people treat you as your chronological age, and because of that you don’t age well. You shouldn’t have to act the age people expect you to act. You are as old as you feel. Better to look at the positive of aging. Accomplishing the things you wanted to do. Life has given you an opening because of your wisdom and maturity.”

What is the community deprived of because of ageism?
“The reality of what takes place in long-term care facilities in a community. Many people don't know that life in a long-term care facility can still happen; people can still offer wisdom/stories in these communities. Stories of a lifetime that are available in a long-term care home that youth don't realize exist.

“For example, we [Residents of The Village of Erin Meadows] are working with the Research Institute for Aging (RIA) to connect youth with seniors. We have a Specialty High Skills Major (SHSM) program for one month with the local high school. Residents provide the orientation to the youths about living in long-term care, showing how it operates as a social model for living rather than a medical setting.”

What are some barriers that exist in allowing seniors full participation in community settings?
“One is that pathways for wheelchairs and scooters are not well designed and signage is not well laid out. A second barrier is that doorways are not fully accessible. There is a lack of knowledge in how to build physical structures best for wheelchairs and power chairs. Businesses need to put a focus on areas where seniors go and learn what is needed to support our seniors.”

Why is it important to tap into the wisdom of the elder?
“Seniors are survivors. They have gone through life and gained its lessons, experienced personal sadness, and adapted to changes in their environment. They survived through positive thinking. They value their family and environment so that they can get the fullest potential out of life and enable love among family members and friends.

“At this point, elders can now inspire others and offer support, especially to those living in long-term care settings who have sight, hearing, or language barriers. Elders are interested in increasing quality of life and building social connections in their communities. They can see the love, care, and friendliness that is the benchmark of what a society should have. A message for the young people is to see how seniors live and learn from them.”

(Aging Services)

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