The pandemic has exposed our rampant ageism.
Under many COVID-19-related stories, as sure as the wind blows in this town, someone will say something along the lines of, “Most people who are dying are old, so it isn’t as big a deal as you are making it.”
The same is true in casual conversations in town, especially when engaging with anti-mask and anti-vaccine folks who tout the perceived low percentage of deaths from COVID-19 as barely worthy of discussion and certainly not worthy of government restrictions.
This was particularly pronounced when long-term care homes were the hardest hit.
It is as if losing so many of those who built our society means nothing to them.
Of course, ageism isn’t new and Squamish is not unique in this prejudice.
A study looking at all available research on the topic by University of Alberta nursing professor Donna Wilson — pre-pandemic — found that 48 to 91% of seniors surveyed experienced ageism.
This disrespect for the lives of Elders and seniors has not gone unnoticed by Bill VanGorder, of the advocacy group CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons).
He says that some headway was made for seniors in Canada before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has set the movement back.
He said he has seen ageism across the board.
(Take this World Health Organization quiz to challenge your ageist ideas.)
“We are hearing it from all different cultures and communities,” he said. “Not valuing a life as a life, no matter what the age, is disconcerting.”
It is not just in the attitude toward lives lost where ageism is seen, he said, it is set in policy as well.
He points to a 91-year-old woman in a long-term care home who was not allowed to see her family for Christmas.
She reasoned it was likely her last Christmas, regardless of COVID, so couldn’t she decide the level of risk she was willing to take?
“Because people are older, it is assumed they can’t make decisions for themselves,” VanGorder said.
It is a systemic issue seen in government spending too, where seniors’ needs have not been a priority, VanGorder said.
“[Historically], the last line of decision making and good advice came from the seniors in the community, and that is just not happening anymore,” he said.
He also pointed to how advertising for many products is aimed at younger folks, which seems misguided when many seniors are free of debt, mortgages and children.
In the last few years, we have come a long way in combating prejudice in many areas, but ageism remains somewhat socially acceptable.
VanGorder said it strange that those who are part of the woke generation, which champions others' rights, don't see their own ageism.
While Squamish has a young and fit demographic, if residents are lucky, they too will be seniors and Elders lickety-split.
VanGorder said what needs to happen is an honest discussion about ageism at the government, media and public level.
So, this is our invitation to continue this conversation.
Discuss the issue with your friends and family and, if you are a senior, shoot us a letter to the editor about how ageism does or doesn't impact you. (email email@example.com.)