The Subtlety of Ageism

Male and female feets

Anna C. Elliott
MSc (Nursing) candidate, Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner


I was made more aware of some of the subtle ageism in social media and my ageist views while reflecting on ageism and elder abuse in Dr. Ivan Culum’s Healthy Aging class discussion posts. The class was invited to complete an Ageism Test (IDRlabs International, 2023) and reflect on their results. Through the completion of 20 questions, the test provided a percentage to which the test writer displayed hostile and benevolent ageism. It appeared many students scored higher in benevolent ageism and attributed this to subtle assumptions that we, as individuals and as a society, make towards older adults. Subsequently, I began to wonder how these subtle assumptions may be translated to views of older adults in social media and healthcare.

According to Sánchez-Román et al. (2022), ageism is, “... a range of stereotyped ideas and images that cause prejudice and discrimination against a group based on its age, poses an obstacle to active ageing insofar as it promotes the exclusion of older people from society and also encourages older people to internalize ageist ideas and self-exclude” (para. 4). has increased since the pandemic in social and traditional media (Sánchez-Román et al., 2022). Ouchida and Lachs (2015) explored ageism in healthcare by examining numerous studies on ageism in healthcare providers, which included healthcare providers like nurses and NPs. Subsequently, Ouchida and Lachs (2015) found that older adults tend to experience ageism from healthcare providers (Ouchida & Lachs, 2015). As an individual who uses social media and is a healthcare provider, I felt it was necessary to reflect on these two concepts.

I am someone who uses Instagram and TikTok regularly. After becoming more aware of what it means to be ageist, I have noticed the subtleties of this discrimination. This discrimination has the potential to negatively impact my views of myself and others, which then may contribute to negative outcomes. Negative outcomes could include negative self-perceptions around physical signs of aging and patients potentially not getting the treatment they require.

The Grammys were a few weeks ago. With that, there was much discussion about people who look older and those who “look great” for their age. Specifically, there was substantial discussion around Madonna. A quick search of the internet showed that Madonna spoke out against the backlash she received for her appearance, declaring the backlash as ageist (Nolfi, 2023). It is significant progress when artistic legends, like Madonna, call out ageist remarks.

I have noticed that, especially around awards seasons, TikTok and Instagram become full of others’ opinions on what a celebrity is wearing and their physical features. When someone does not appear ‘older,’ they are applauded and receive positive media coverage.  Often, they will be asked what their ‘secret’ is to not appear older. Such norms perpetuate ageist views both directly and indirectly. The positive attention some receive reinforces that looking older is undesirable. Other celebrities who, unlike Madonna, are silent in the face of backlash for their looks, you could argue, are enabling ageism.

What is needed for ageism to be stopped? As a female, I feel that reflecting on this is especially important. I know I have had to remind myself that looking older is not a bad thing. For example, I have become aware of my ‘crow’s feet’ around my eyes. I recognize that this change is normal, but my initial reaction is to panic. Being a Gen Z, I have grown up with social media and general media. Similarly, when talking to my mom about ageing, her initial response was that ageing ‘sucks.’ I never asked why she thought that, but I know she also uses social media and some of the celebrities that are mentioned about ageing are typically around her age. Therefore, her views may have also been impacted by social media’s portrayal of ageing. As such, there is no doubt in my mind that constantly being exposed to ageism in these pervasive parts of our lives impacts my views and the potentially the views of others.

As a current RN and future NP, I need to be more aware of ageism and my ageist views. After completing the previously mentioned Ageism Test (IDRlabs International, 2023), I was surprised to learn about some of the types of ageism that can arise and how they may even bein their discussion posts for Dr. Culum’sclass, holding the doors for older individuals. Although it is not intentional, such behaviour does show ageism. As healthcare providers, we need to be especially aware of our ageist views as they can impact care. After all, we are often in a position of power with our patients. I recognize that I am guilty of calling older individuals cute or maybe at times, assuming stereotypes of older individuals. While I do not say these things directly to my patients, I do think about them. And I recognize that such thoughts can impact our actions if we are not aware or careful. For instance, as an RN, I have been guilty of assuming an older adult may need help opening their lunch tray. Sometimes, I just go into their room and open all the packages without asking if they need help. This act may be helpful, but it may also be ageist. It is behaving in a way that assumes the older adult is unable to do something by themselves. Whereas I would normally ask a patient whether they need anything, my actions of simply opening the trays imply they cannot. This leads to the stereotype that older adults are weak and unable to do things independently.

A simple change will be to ask if the older adult needs help. This change can help them recognize their independence and self-confidence. Analogously, ageist beliefs and behaviours may contribute to negative patient outcomes. Specifically, if I were to carry this assumption to a patient who is complaining of general weakness, difficulty moving their hands, and difficulty walking, I could potentially misdiagnose their symptoms as normal for older individuals. By recognizing that this is a stereotype and completing a proper assessment, I could better establish a proper diagnosis, like arthritis. Subsequently, the patient would receive the proper care they require, like Tylenol or other anti-inflammatories. Similar to the tray example, as an NP, I need to ask further questions about the patient’s condition before assuming their ailment or needs.

In summary, social media has subtlety tainted my views and others’ views on ageing. I, in the past, have unintentionally perpetuated ageist stereotypes, and have contributed to the direct and indirect discrimination of older adults. However, through this awareness of ageism and ageist actions, I can now promote positive attitudes towards ageing in my own life and ultimately be a better healthcare provider in the future.


IDRlabs International (2023). Ageism Test. Retrieved February 18, 2023 from

Nolfi, J. (2023). Madonna slams ‘ageism and misogyny,’ quotes Beyonce after Grammys criticism: ‘You won’t break my soul’. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 18, 2023 from

Ouchida, K. M. & Lachs, M. S. (2015). Not for doctors only: Ageism in healthcare. Journal of the American Society on Aging, 39(3), 46-57.

Sánchez-Román, M., Autric-Tamayo, G., Fernandez-Mayoralas, G., Rojo-Perez, F., Agulló-Tomás, M. S., Sánchez-González, D., & Rodriguez-Rodriguez, V. (2022). Social image of old age, gendered ageism and inclusive places: Older people in the media. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health19(24), 17031. MDPI AG. Retrieved from



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