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Prejudices and stereotypes about old age

Prejudices and stereotypes about old age

September 18, 2022

"Old age exists when you start saying: I've never felt so young"

-Jules Renard

"When they tell me I'm too old to do something, I try to do it right away"

-Pablo Picasso

"Death does not come with old age, but with oblivion"

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What is the social imaginary of the elderly from the perspective of the adult?

As a first step, I want to reflect on the journey in time that was making the vision of the elderly and how it was changing until today. Today, many times you have an image of the old negative in Western societies , there is a myth of "eternal youth" that we believe can hide the passage of time.Today, where it is very fashionable, surgeries and beauty treatments, in their extreme use, are some of the ways to cover the pass of the time.


Changes in the body can be considered as a scenario of prejudice and the importance of the skin and being cherished as a means of communication and a way to prevent isolation.

Social factors

I consider as relevant information the increase in life expectancy that began to be detected from the second half of the twentieth century and the decline in the fertility rate. The proportion of people over 60 is increasing more rapidly than any other age group in almost all countries. Following this, we must notice the positive things that this period has, which is the simple fact of being alive. It is a challenge for society to value the role that older adults can play and achieve the maximum improvement of their quality of life and health, as well as their participation in society.


Old age, as explained in the Theory of the Psychosocial Development of Erikson, refers us to a psychological struggle of the individual during this life stage. The current society, where advertising and the culture of the image have a great relevance, youth is a rising value and, on the contrary, old age is hidden and denied, to the point that many people of a certain age live obsessed with the negative sensations linked to aging. It is what is known as Gerascophobia.

A culture that rejects old age

The culture rewards youth as symbols of joy, success and fertility, while repudiating old age, associating it with illness, asexuality and the absence of desires or projects. In the collective imagination they plan phrases like "leave it, it's old" "they are things of the age" "this is because it's old", not to mention verbs like "ranting" or "choking", which are often associated with people of a certain age.


Many professionals who deal with elderly people day after day feel that the elderly are not listened to but silenced. Just the opposite of what a person in the third age needs: to speak and be heard, to communicate with their environment and to notice that it is useful and valued. Is there something about the discourse of the elderly that we do not want to hear? This is another of the questions that we pose when addressing the issue.

Prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about old age

Taking as reference the gerontopsychiatry Argentinian Leopoldo Salvarezza and the North American psychiatrist Robert Neil Butler, I consider that old age and its social imaginary represent:

  • A discriminatory attitude and unfounded prejudices towards the old.
  • The impossibility of placing oneself, in projection, as old.
  • To ignore old age as a reality and as a life stage.
  • Confuse old age and disease.
  • Confuse old age with senile dementia.
  • Expectations fantasies and unproven treatments to stop the passage of time and try to get "eternal youth."
  • Irrational biomedicalization of the aging process based on the medical paradigm.
  • Participation of the health professionals themselves, without gerontological training, in the criteria of oldness.
  • Collective unconscious of the society that is usually gerontofóbica and tanatofóbica.

We choose from the desire

Psychoanalysis and its concept of wish It gives us the possibility to "choose" the old one we want to be. We believe that neither happiness nor joy are attributes of young people, just as neither is the lack of desire proper to the elderly . These are prejudices implanted for centuries and that lead to older people deny themselves when they feel desires, passions, emotions that supposedly "are no longer for their age."

For this reason we should be less critical of our own body and be more critical of social prejudices about the elderly , so that they do not leave us locked in a feeling of shame towards ourselves.


Fact check: Stereotypes about aging | DW English (September 2022).


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