Gerontophobia: what it is, characteristics and causes
Jul 19, 2021
We can learn a lot from our elders. Their experiences, their values and their wisdom are treasures that the elderly can share with the new generations.
We should all value this stage of the life cycle, since if luck is on our side We will all reach our senior years one day, and we don't want to be treated badly when we are elderly.
Unfortunately, today there are still certain attitudes and behaviors that are anything but respectful of our older people. The fear of getting older and discrimination towards people in old age is called gerontophobia, a problem that we will delve into next.
- Related article: "The 9 stages of the life of human beings"
Gerontophobia: rejection of the elderly
The third age is natural, a period that most of us want to reach since it is synonymous with having had a long life. Everyone can consider reaching one age or another as old age, but it is usually agreed that we begin to be elderly when we surpass the magical age of 65, an age at which in many countries coincides with that of the retirement.
Living to that age implies having lived many experiences, acquired a lot of knowledge and having reached a high level of reflection and maturity. All older people have something to teach their youth, knowledge that we should not underestimate. As much as they may seem like “little battles” to us, the exploits and stories of the elderly can be a great source of knowledge for us and a great relief and sense of being useful to them.
However, the attitude of many people towards the elderly is a mixture of fear and boredom. Many young they treat older people with animosity, seeing them as individuals who are no longer useful and who all they do is annoy. Others see old age as a disease, a period when everything declines, and they make all kinds of efforts to look young forever. These behaviors are behaviors typical of gerontophobia, the rejection of everything related to elderly people.
But growing old is not a disease, but a privilege that life grants us. Reaching old age is something we should all aspire to, wanting nothing to happen to us before it ends our lives. And of course, we also want to be treated with the same respect when we are older than when we were young. Emmanuel kant He defended that all human beings, including the elderly, deserve special and dignified treatment for being who they are, for being human beings like any other.
- You may be interested in: "What are the differences between chronological age and biological age?"
Gerontophobia: specific phobia and discriminatory attitude
In a clinical sense, gerontophobia can be defined as the pathological fear of aging, in addition to an excessive, irrational and persistent fear of elderly people or everything related to them. Defined in this way, this phobia would meet the characteristics to be considered a specific phobia and, therefore, an anxiety disorder as they appear in the DSM-5.
People who suffer from gerontofobia first show an intense anguish towards the passage of time and the fact of growing old. This fear goes beyond simple physical change, but includes a series of fears of various kinds and complexity:
- Fear of physical weakness
- Phobia of the appearance of diseases associated with old age
- Fear of cognitive decline
- Fear of physical pain and excessive worry about its appearance
- Fear of having to depend on other people
- Idea that old age is synonymous with disability
People with this type of specific phobia associate the passage of time on their body with the absolute loss of attributes, among them beauty, intelligence and independence. They deeply fear that they cease to be valid people on their own and have to be helped to move on. In order to avoid seeing how old age takes a toll on your body, those who suffer from this specific phobia are capable of compulsively undergoing surgical operations to pretend eternal youth.
But although it has the characteristics of a specific phobia, gerontophobia is better known as a social attitude in the form of discrimination towards the elderly and what is associated with them. That is, we say that a person is gerontóphobic when rejects old people, discriminates against and looks down on people who have reached a certain age or have an aged appearance. This attitude is closely related to ageism, which is discriminating against people according to their age, whether they are younger or older than the person who discriminates.
- Related article: "How do you help someone who is bored in retirement?"
Where does this fear of old age come from?
The stereotypes associated with the elderly abound. Germanophobic prejudices are nourished by the social image of the elderly as a person with gray hair and wrinkles who cannot stay standing without his cane, he needs a walker to walk and even requires the help of a caregiver to eat and relieve himself. From a young age, we are instilled with the stereotype that this is how elderly, fragile and annoying people are.
We do not learn these stereotypes explicitly, but through references in the media and in the family environment.. We attribute old age as a bad thing based on what we see in movies, books, television and we even find them in the form of very bad jokes on birthday cards. Our language is a reflection of this, since words like "old", "old man" or "grandfather" are often accompanied by a multitude of negative connotations.
Old age is seen as an irreversible state of decline, older people as beings who have lost their human condition and value, becoming a burden for society, while youth is seen as indisputable synonymous with beauty, happiness and productivity. This stereotypical and negative view of people reaching the third age is undoubtedly a social attitude that encourages and feeds gerontophobia, serving as a breeding ground for them to suffer more discrimination and victimization.
There are several beliefs in which a person with gerontophobia believes in the sense of social discrimination.
- Thinking that the young is good and the old is bad.
- Attributing a lot of creativity to youth and not having new ideas to old age.
- Assume that youth is gain and maturity is loss
- Thinking that youth is always fun and older people are unpleasant
- In youth there is sexual life and in old age there is none
- The young are useful and the old are not
- Older people do not deserve dignity.
But It is not necessary to have this specific phobia and / or discriminatory social attitude to engage in gerontophobic behaviors. Germanophobia is the result of a series of behaviors and beliefs extended in collective thinking about how older people are and how they should be treated. These attitudes manifest themselves in subtle ways, such as not hiring qualified people from seniors, ignoring complaints somatic symptoms of elderly patients in medical consultations attributing their ailments to aging or speaking with a paternalistic tone to a person old woman.
At its most serious, gerontophobia is hatred towards the elderly, a pathological rejection of old age that comes from ignorance and that is as serious for western societies as sexism, the racism, xenophobia and LGTBIphobia. The gerontóphobe can even have supremacist behaviors towards the elderly, which among all the types of discrimination that there is this is the makes less sense since, unless you do something to avoid it, sooner or later it will become what you fear most, since everyone we grow old.