Do people treat you differently when you’re old?

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Are older people treated differently?

This was a question posed on a radio program I heard this morning. Isn’t it an interesting topic? (And one that becomes more interesting the older we get!)

This was a phone-in show and it was interesting to hear what callers had to say. One (young) woman told of a time when she was in a supermarket. In front of her in the queue was an elderly woman in a wheelchair. The supermarket employee who was dealing with her was surly and impatient.

When it was the young woman’s turn, the employee was cheerful,perky and helpful. The caller could only assume that this was due to the difference in their ages – or some strange prejudice against older people.

UK_traffic_sign_544.2.svgIncidentally, several callers mentioned that they truly disliked the description ‘elderly’. They suggested that this suggests infirm and incapable whereas in fact that’s hardly true today, many older people are full of life, bright and entertaining.

For example, is the road sign on the left really ‘politically correct’?

It’s often seen on roads close to facilities that care for the elderly (apologies to those who dislike the word) and yes, it’s sensible to warn motorists that there might be people who are crossing the road who may be a bit slower than average.

Furthermore, it’s instantly recognisable and understood by motorists.

But is this a stereotype?

Are older people seen as being hunched over and using walking stick or the support of others to get around?

Recent statistics in the United States say that 20% of pedestrian deaths and 9% of pedestrian injuries are to people over sixty five. Not enormous figures and these days, aren’t pedestrians more likely to be older people?

What mental image does the word ‘grandmother’ conjure up for you? An old lady sitting knitting in a rocking chair? Today’s grannies are more likely to be running their own businesses, writing their blogs, rushing to their yoga classes and spending much of their leisure time dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. So are many great-grandmothers.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom from the people who called into the radio program. Many people said how much they enjoyed the freedom of being part of the older generation. As one older lady said ‘No matter what crazy things I do, I can excuse it by being an old lady’.

Good attitude.





Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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  1. Indeed an interesting topic! I prefer the attitude of the gal who capitalizes on her older age as an excuse to do as she pleases.

    Interestingly, the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of this article was, “Yes, but when?” What I mean by that has to do with those of us who were taught to treat our elders with respect. I experience less of that the older I get!

    • Maybe experience from the past doesn’t count so much in a fast moving world, particularly when it comes to electronic related change at home and in the workplace. I’m more likely to talk to my grandchildren about that, than they are with me. Everything is done at a fast pace now, so the slow moving are not so cool.

  2. That surprises me. It seems like often they are treated more gently, though that could be due to the average age where I live. Still, some of the seniors (much older than we are) can be difficult too. Very interesting to hear the actual statistics.

  3. There was a research study done about 20 or so years ago, when a young woman dressed up as an elderly person and went around a US city pretending to be old to see what response she got. She revisited the same places later as her real young self. The response to the ‘old’ woman was markedly different to the younger one. The old lady encountered impatience from salespeople, or was ignored by them, compared to how they treated the younger her some time later. Sales staff would often be stand-offish too, seemingly reluctant to engage with the ‘old’ lady. The researcher concluded that the old are often ‘invisible’ or teated as a homogenous group – all the same; no individuality; grey blobs. It would be interested to see this experiment repeated today. Would things be different? Maybe.

  4. I was thinking about this topic just this morning, as I was staring at the little old lady in the mirror. I’m beginning to come to terms with the fact that people treat me the way they treat that little old lady in my mirror, rather than treating me like the “growing older but not up” person I feel like on the inside. There are advantages to growing older, though, as the caller you mentioned talked about. It’s fun to have fun with people and not have to worry so much about decorum. That’s why I take that little old lady in the mirror with me wherever I go, just in case I need her!

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