RSPH calls for employers to support staff in planning for a positive later life

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Written by Jon Kennard on 8 June 2018 in Press Zone
Press Zone

A report published today has revealed the extent of ageist attitudes across the UK, and how they harm the health and wellbeing of everyone in society as we grow older. 

A report published today (8 June 2018) by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has revealed the extent of ageist attitudes across the UK, and how they harm the health and wellbeing of everyone in society as we grow older. RSPH recognises that the workplace can be a focal point for ageist attitudes and behaviours, and is making a number of policy calls, including:

  • Employers to offer their staff training and support from mid-life and in the years between mid-life and retirement, to help people plan ahead for a positive later life – a call backed by more than two thirds of the public (69%).
  • Government to introduce a statutory carers’ leave of five days’ paid leave, allowing carers to deal with emergency situations without being penalised in the workplace – RSPH research found 85% of the public support this call.
  • Healthcare professionals to be trained on the effects of ageism in clinical and care settings.

In the report, That Age Old Question, RSPH evaluate ageist attitudes across 12 main areas of life, finding that the public are most ageist about memory loss, appearance, and participation in activities (both physical and community).

The findings highlight the extent to which old age is viewed by many as a period of decline and ordeal, and calls on stakeholders in the media, government, voluntary sector, and schools to take action to reframe the way our nation views ageing in a more positive light. Key findings include:

  • Ageist views are held across the generations, but are most prevalent among millennials (aged 18-34), who have by far the most negative attitudes to ageing of all the age groups.
  • Almost a third of the public (30%) believe “being lonely is just something that happens when people get old”, while a quarter (25%) of 18-34 year olds believe it is “normal” for older people to be unhappy and depressed.
  • Two in five 18-24 year olds (40%) believe there is no way to escape dementia as you age.

Negative attitudes about age can take root among children as young as six years old, and are reinforced over the course of our lives – ultimately leading to a substantial impact on individual health and wellbeing.

Many of us hold convictions that mental and physical decline are unavoidable with age, and by the time we become old ourselves, those beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The health impact of this can be extensive: previous research has shown those with negative attitudes to ageing live on average 7.5 years less, and are more likely to develop dementia.

Other health impacts that result from having negative attitudes to ageing include increased memory loss, higher risk of depression and anxiety, reduced ability to recover from illness, disengagement with healthy behaviours such as diet and exercise, and poor body image.

Outside of the workplace, the report’s recommendations for curbing the negative effects of societal ageism include:

  • An end to the use of the term “anti-ageing” in the cosmetics and beauty industry – RSPH research found half of women (49%) and a quarter of men (23%) feel pressured to stay looking young.
  • The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to include “age” in the Editors’ Code of Practice as a characteristic by which journalists must not discriminate.
  • Positive ageing to be addressed within schools.
  • Combine nurseries and care-homes under the same roof, reducing ageism by bringing generations together – RSPH research found two thirds (64%) of the public have no friends with an age gap of 30 years or more.

See all of RSPH’s recommendations by reading the full That Age Old Question report here.

The report also uncovered reasons for optimism, with more than two thirds of the public (69%) agreeing that “fundamentally, older people are no different from people of other ages”. It is also clear that cultural and ethnic backgrounds play a significant role in shaping perceptions of older people: among people from a black ethnic background, attitudes to ageing are nearly three times more positive than the average.

RSPH has produced two short films exploring what the public think about ageism and older age: watch them both here.



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