“At 82 years old, the fact that £10,000 is missing is affecting my health.”
I’m glad the Telegraph’s Ask Jessica found the missing £10k for that reader, but is being 82 really relevant?
I enjoy reading consumer advice columns – who knows, my problem might be in there one day! – and I notice that many of those complaining about poor service add the information that they’re elderly. They say or imply that they should be treated differently because of their age, shown more respect, not messed around.
But DO people deserve special treatment on the grounds of age?
Situation matters more than age
Having £10,000 go missing is traumatic for anyone if they’re on a low income. In fact it might be worse for a young adult who’s scraped the amount together towards a house deposit than for an 80 year old with spare capital to invest.
I sympathise with anyone who’s messed around by businesses or financial institutions. I’ve been there myself. I know it’s especially tough on anyone who’s unwell, or recently bereaved, or finding it hard to cope. But people can be in those positions whatever their age. If they deserve special treatment, it’s because of their situation, not their age.
Sure, as we get older, we are more likely to suffer ill-health, bereavement, and frailty. We might well find it harder to get our heads round the latest technological developments. So when we phone that financial institution we’re entitled to ask them to speak more clearly, or to explain in terms we can understand.
But we need that because we’re hard of hearing, or unfamiliar with the technology, not because we’re 65 or 82 or 102. Young, old or in-between, we all deserve good customer service.
“Every time we use being old as shorthand for being deaf, confused, frail and vulnerable, we reinforce ageist stereotypes.”
Yet we keep trying to have it both ways. When there’s something we want, we stress that age is no barrier, we’re perfectly capable, thank you very much. When there’s a chance to avoid something unpleasant, we play the elderly card: I’m far too old to cope with that sort of thing. I caught myself avoiding switching on a wall heater the other day with “I’m too old to climb on chairs”. I do it perfectly happily when it suits me, though!
It’s human nature to take advantage when it gets us an easy life. But every time we use being old as shorthand for being deaf, confused, frail and vulnerable, we reinforce ageist stereotypes.
Even if these conditions are more likely in old age, many older people are active and competent, and many younger people are vulnerable in different ways. We need to see people for who they are, not categorise them purely by age.
And older people among us can make a start by not using age as an excuse. Having poor balance or fragile bones or feeling tired are legitimate excuses for not climbing on chairs.
Being old, on its own, is no excuse!