Move from Ageism Advocate to Activist

Four Hands Joined Together

“The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.”
― Abraham VergheseCutting for Stone

I’ve been told talk is cheap. It doesn’t take much of an investment of one’s resources to talk, whether that be time, money or intellectual capital.  (Well, O.K. Maybe it takes a little time.)

I’m frustrated with all the talk and the slow, almost imperceptible movement towards an outright revolt against ageism. Why is it that we as a society continue to turn a deaf ear and blind eye to this last accepted form of discrimination? How do we move from simply talking about it to doing something about it? What has happened to our passion for fighting for what is right?

I’ve made a few inroads into activism as a champion for the International Council on Active Aging’s (ICAA) “Changing the Way We Age” Campaign, and I’d like to share them with you:

1) Join the anti-ageism movement. It has helped me move from talk to action to feel that I’m part of a movement – something greater than just myself. Becoming a champion with ICAA’s Campaign motivated me to act.

2) Educate your circle of influence. Speak to groups of people about ageism. Share educational materials and resources on ageism with people through social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Write or blog about it and post it everywhere you can think of.  People have learned to accept ageism from a young age through comments, marketing, and stereotypes that have been widespread. It’s going to take a mighty effort to turn this ship around.

3) Educate professionals that may perpetuate ageism. Many professionals unintentionally practice ageism in their professions. As I mentioned before, it is so ingrained and accepted by society that we have become de-conditioned to it and don’t even notice it for what it is. It takes a wake-up call from someone who understands its harmful effects. For example, I wrote a grant proposal and gave healthcare professionals in our town books on ageism in healthcare called, “Treat Me Not My Age,” by Mark Lachs, M.D.

4) Educate the business community on ageism. I served as the director for a “Senior Friendly Workplace” initiative in our town. We developed the Principles and Best Practices for Senior Friendly Workplaces, and educated and branded employers who signed an agreement to comply with them. (See my previous blog on this.)

5) Don’t let people degrade themselves or others because of age. When you hear someone say, “I had a senior moment,” remind them that people of all ages forget things. The idea that something is “forgotten” is often times more to blame on the fact that it was never “remembered” in the first place. The concept that helps us remember something is called mindfulness and can be learned through meditation and being present in each moment.

6) Boycott products that are marketed in an ageist way or deliver an ageist message. Don’t watch those TV shows that depict older adults as helpless, forgetful or in other stereotypical ways. Don’t purchase ageist birthday cards or paraphernalia that was meant to be funny, but missed the mark completely. Don’t let yourself be graywashed by purchasing products that make false claims to put aging “on hold.”

7) Make sure you don’t discriminate against people because of their age. Back up what you say by what you do. This is the test of true integrity. Don’t be a drop in the sea of ageism. Help to drain the sea through your actions. Be another hole in the Hoover Dam of ageism.

AGEISM: Prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly.


  1. Marilynn Larkin

    Kathy, As I read your posts and think about the situation, I am convinced this all needs to start with individuals examining their self-stereotypes—which too often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. I’ve been disillusioned by the response of other people, especially professionals who “should” be interested in overcoming ageism. We need to start inside,not outside. I have an idea to get this going.


    • Okay, Kathy. I’m curious. How do we get this going?

      Do people recognize ageism when it happens?

      Ed Zinkiewicz


      • Marilynn Larkin

        I recently had to buy a birthday card for my sister in law. What a sorry selection of supposedly funny cards, most aimed at “older” people. I was in a drugstore, so no idea why so many cards were aimed at people over 50 (are we the only ones who buy birthday cards any more?) or why ANY of them would be thought of us funny. No, I for one don’t think people recognize ageism when they see it, which is why I’m advocating for starting internally rather than from the outside. It’s too easy for a group of people to say that the person pointing these things out “doesn’t have a sense of humor” or “takes things too seriously.”


      • I totally agree, Marilynn. I look forward to continuing this discussion.


      • Marilynn Larkin

        Kathy, I’d like to remind us that gender discrimination is alive and well, despite efforts to quell it (see my article and Ute Habel’s comments here: When gender and age discrimination intersect, older women pay the price. That has been shown in several studies. Just don’t want that piece of discrimination to get lost. In fact, we might consider joining forces with organizations that are countering gender discrimination.


      • Good idea. Just because there has been a larger outcry and more inroads made in gender discrimination; that does NOT mean it doesn’t persist. Thanks for the input and link to your article. I look forward to reading it. – Kathy


      • Ed, In answer to your questions (only in reverse):

        Do people recognize ageism? People are raised in a society that accepts ageism, so they recognize it as an accepted form of discrimination. They may, in fact, not even see it as discrimination. It’s just “how it is.” Then someone comes along and introduces the concept of age discrimination, and like me a light bulb goes off in their head and they recognize it for what it is. It usually takes a court decision to set a precedent for the fight on ageism, which has happened in employment and elder abuse for the most part. Even so, more cases go unreported than reported.

        How do we get this going? Keep talking about it within your circle of influence and encourage those you reach to do so within their circles. Sooner or later (later, as in this case) we will reach a “tipping point.” We must begin something akin to the midnight ride of Paul Revere to get people’s attention, as referred to in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Tipping Point.” Perhaps it will be the boomer generation who will make a stand against ageism. They won’t tolerate it. It’s just easier to be complacent and apathetic to injustice in this world; that is, until it affects us. I say don’t wait until it becomes personal. We need more activists! Now!


    • “Let it begin with me. Let this be the moment now. With every breath I take, let this be my solemn vow….” Remember that song? Yes, it must begin with “me,” but hopefully that becomes “us.” I’d be very interested in hearing about your idea. I, too, get very frustrated with the lack of any movement of any magnitude to fight ageism. Yet, I will not be stilled.


  2. There is a pattern of age discrimination on television singing competitions like the Voice USA, UK, and Finland. If you are over 50, a contestant never gets by the battle rounds with the results solely determined by the judges. To confirm what I say, you will need to watch the shows. If a contestant is over 50 and it can be determined by their audition, they are never chosen in spite of their talent. Bob Blakeley on Voice UK is a good example of what takes place on this show format.


    • Don, Media and marketing are enamored with youth and the outcomes of these singing competitions is a great example of ageism. If you look on the Refined by Age Facebook site you will find reference to Senate Special Committee on Aging Hearings regarding age discrimination in media and marketing with testimony from well-known actors and aging professionals in the know. This was being disclosed in the early 2000s and I’m afraid that their testimony fell on deaf ears and continues to do so today. One day we will reach a tipping point where people who are older will stand up and say, “Enough!”


    Facebook: Seniors Standing Strong


  4. I work for a chiropractors office, and I get sad when our older patients come in and talk about how awful it is getting old. You hear it everywhere, of course, but it seems like I hear it there more than anywhere else. I suppose it’s easier to complain when you come into a doctors office in pain, but we have plenty of young and middle aged people coming in with similar pain levels, and in many cases worse, than that of the older patients who complain. That being said, I don’t feel that it’s my place to tell them what their experience should be, you know? I appreciate this advice on how to respond to it positively. I want to work towards positive change in this area of social justice, after all, with any luck I will be a senior one day too! And, you know, I just don’t want to see any human being discriminated against and oppressed.


    • For those who are able to stay fit, growing older needn’t be the painful process some experience. It’s all about fitness, diet and keeping the Seven Dimensions tuned up in one’s life. We have a long way to go in the fight against ageism. It’s an epidemic that is hiding in plain sight. Best, Kathy


  5. That is a good tip particularly to those new to
    the blogosphere. Short but very precise info… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!


  6. Bette Dewing

    I’ve been decrying ageism since early 70’s -NOW had first anti ageism against women conference in 72 i think it was. In 80’s it got pretty much derailed though I kept b anging the drum in my Our Town column especially. Now nobody advocating for the old old – like me -and who need so much more understanding and support. Just not there even though 85 plus people are the fastest growing age group. And of course more women than men.reach this most vuleranble age. Anyone out there care?. .


  7. Bette Dewing

    those who say elders should not talk about how difficult it is getting old, do not know the expereience and indeed most elders do not talk about it. We are the one group who is told to grin and bear it and who get high makrs for not “complaining” – awful word. Of course, people should not air their grievances without listening to those of others. Sharing the talk is so important and the extroverts so often just take over – no matter their age. But doggone it Kathy and others walk a mile in the shoes of an elder – hear withe their ears – see with their eyes – etcetera. Again the 85 plus group is not being heard. and somuch mroe and wonder why I bother – when I have a file cabinet filled with ageism examples – some really cruel and criminal too. Jusst gong to waste, and especially that about how elders are so often forgotten by their offspring ….ah, that is the worst but a real no no to so called aging advcoates, social workers, people of the cloth and yes women – few want to take much care of their elder parents – or be much involved in their lives….and most elder parents don’t talk about this saddest of situations – they love their chidren too much and don’t want to cause them any trouble. This is the most heartbreaking and also most unjust of all human betrayals.And I’ve taken incredible flak for this stance. .



  1. Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration & Spirituality #22 | Fierce With Age

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