DOJ Elder Justice Initiative Highlights Ageism Awareness Day: A Call to Action for Prosecutors

In the realm of justice, few topics are as pressing and yet as overlooked as ageism. On Ageism Awareness Day (Oct. 7), the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative (EJI) brings this issue to the forefront, emphasizing its intersection with elder abuse. As prosecutors, understanding the nuances of ageism is not just a professional obligation but a moral one.

What is Ageism?

Ageism is not just about disliking the elderly. It’s a multifaceted form of discrimination that encompasses stereotypes (our perceptions), prejudice (our feelings), and discrimination (our actions) based on age. This discrimination manifests in various forms:

- Internalized Ageism: How we view ourselves as we age and instances where older adults marginalize their peers.
- Cultural Ageism: The subtle yet pervasive negative portrayal of aging and older adults in media.
- Implicit Ageism: Unconscious biases and behaviors directed towards people from different age groups.
- Benevolent Ageism: A patronizing approach suggesting that older individuals need protection from the younger generation.

Alarmingly, ageism is one of the most socially accepted forms of prejudice. By the tender age of 3, children are already being introduced to age stereotypes, which are then reinforced throughout their lives.

Ageism and Elder Abuse: The Dark Connection

The intertwining of ageism and elder abuse is a complex web. Ageist attitudes can lead to the dehumanization of older adults, providing a mental justification for abusers. On the flip side, experiencing abuse can intensify a victim’s internalized ageism, leading to a vicious cycle where elder abuse often goes unreported.

For those in the justice system, these stereotypes can have dire consequences:

- Mistaking abuse signs as mere symptoms of aging.
- Dismissing genuine abuse disclosures, assuming older individuals are just “confused.”
- Limiting the range of services and support for older adults.
- Unwittingly perpetuating ageism’s harms.

A Call to Action for Elder Justice Professionals

While the challenge is significant, it’s not insurmountable. Elder justice professionals have a plethora of tools and resources at their disposal to combat ageism’s effects:

- Delve into ageism with resources from the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL).
- Engage with Elder Justice Initiatives’ (EJI) webinar on elder abuse’s forensic markers, enriched by Dr. Mosqueda’s insights.
- Cultivate an age-friendly work environment with tools from Changing the Narrative.
- Elevate awareness using the American Society on Aging (ASA)’s Ageism toolkit.
- Revamp the aging discourse with resources from the Frameworks Institute.

In Conclusion

Ageism Awareness Day is more than just a date on the calendar. It’s a clarion call for prosecutors and elder justice professionals to actively challenge ageism and its associated harms. By staying informed, questioning our biases, and leveraging the right resources, we can ensure that older adults are treated with the justice, respect, and dignity they deserve.

Research Citations:

Phelan, A., & Ayalon, L. (2020). The intersection of ageism and elder abuse. Advances in Elder Abuse Research: Practice, Legislation and Policy, 11-22.

Pillemer, K., Burnes, D., & MacNeil, A. (2021). Investigating the connection between ageism and elder mistreatment. Nature Aging, 1(2), 159-164.

Nerenberg, L. (2019). Elder justice, ageism, and elder abuse. Springer Publishing Company.

Flamion A, Missotten P, Jennotte L, Hody N, Adam S. Old Age-Related Stereotypes of Preschool Children. Front Psychol. 2020 Apr 28;11:807. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00807. PMID: 32411060; PMCID: PMC7198741.

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