We all have the right to live with dignity and respect regardless of age. Human rights are the rights all people are entitled to because they are human beings. When these rights are respected people can live with equality and free from discrimination. This equality does not change with age. Some rights are embedded in law such as the right to equal protection before the law, the right to education and the right to participate in government. Some rights might have more relevance in older age than at other times, e.g. the right to social security in the form of pensions.
Worldwide, the number of older people is increasing rapidly. In 2017, 15% of Australians (3.8 million people) were over 65 years of age. The increasing number of older Australians is partly due to longer life expectancy. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the rights of older people are protected and expanded. Older people are as a diverse group as any other with a great deal to contribute to society – lived experience and reflective wisdom usually come with age. Protecting the rights of older people enables them to lead lives with dignity, the ability to make their own choices and continue to contribute to the community.
Discrimination against any group in the community is unacceptable. With the increasing population of people over 65 years of age, the prevalence of age discrimination can increase and therefore impact on an older person’s choices, lifestyle and decision making. Each person has a different experience of ageing and discrimination can be multi-dimensional based on gender, sexuality, ethnic origin, disability, literacy levels and where they live.
Ageism is the discrimination and devaluing of an older person because of their age. Ageism categorises older people negatively. Some common examples of these categories about older people are that they:
These are called stereotypes because they group all older people into these categories or labels. Stereotypes fail to recognise the rights, needs, dignity and valuable contribution of older people in our community and translate into ageist actions. Experiences of ageism often affect older people’s mental and physical well-being and therefore their quality of life. Ageism can result in feelings of loneliness, sadness, anger and shame. In an Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) study, for example, 71% of Australian adults over 65 reported that they had been insulted or mistreated on the basis of their age. With an increasing ageing population in Australia, ageism is a significant human rights issue.
Elder abuse is a serious form of ageism. Elder abuse is any act which causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone with whom the older person has a trusting relationship. The abuse may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and can include the neglect of an older person. Elder abuse often takes away an older person’s rights and choices. We all need to take responsibility for combatting ageism and preventing elder abuse to ensure that older people can participate with full potential in a community that is age-friendly.