Ageism makes judgments and assumptions about an individual regarding their perceived age. Discrimination against older adults has received more research than other age categorizations, but it is not the only kind of ageism.
Ageism includes adultism, which discounts children and teenagers. It is never wise to lump people together by their ages or physical features as this deprives each person of their individualism.
Ageism thrives on negative and inaccurate stereotypes. Society typically groups individuals by age; one such grouping that is largely typical is from the American Medical Association:
Neonates/newborns: birth to 1 month
Infants: 1 month to 1 year (12 months)
Children: 1 to 12 years
Adolescents: 13 through 17 years
Young adults: 18 to 24
Adults: 18 years or older
Older adults: 60 years or older
To avoid age discrimination, only include an individual’s age or age grouping if it is essential to the text and/or context. Avoid gender stereotypes both in general and in reference to age; persons should be described as they self-identify, whether that’s binary, non-binary, male, female, and so forth.
Avoid suggesting stereotypes when describing age, including the following words meant to imply a specific age or age range:
geriatric (unless in the phrase “geriatric medicine” or similar instances)
over the hill
senile (unless talking about the specific medical condition of senility)
Ageism can be countered by changing how aging is discussed or described in scholarly literature:
Usually, there’s no need to refer to a person’s age. When the need does arise, use a person’s specific age number rather than an age range to avoid stereotypes or negative connotations .
Whenever possible, ask a person about their preferred terminology regarding age, such as “senior” versus “older adult.”
Avoid ages to suggest stereotypes of a life stage, e.g., teenager, tween, or oldster.
Avoid language that patronizes, sentimentalizes, distorts, or characterizes people based on their age.
Avoid assumptions regarding age and stereotypes—not every teenager is hormone-fueled nor every senior senile and slow. “Baby Boomers” don’t all act or think alike.
Do not assume that older individuals live with a disability due to age.
For formal research, age should be reported as part of the description of participants in the paper’s methodology section. Specific age ranges with means and medians should be given instead of descriptions like “younger than 18 years” or “older than 65 years” (American Psychological Association).
Descriptions of age that suggest ability or a deficit, such as describing someone as a teenager, elderly, aged, senior, senior citizen, dependent, etc.
A specific age if known, otherwise a general description if required, such as early career or primary school age
Geriatrics is the field of study of the health of older people; do not use to refer to a person
Dementia, person with dementia, a person with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease
Social security recipient, social security beneficiary
People who are receiving social security and specify why (e.g., older than age 62, due to a disability)
Medicare recipient, Medicare beneficiary
People who receive Medicare and specify why (e.g., older than age 62, due to a disability)
Identify age only if relevant and necessary for the text in context to the overall paper
Elderly, elders, the aged, aging dependents, senior citizens
Older adults, older people, persons aged 65 and older, an older population
American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association 2020: the official guide to APA style (7th ed.). American Psychological Association.
Centre for Ageing Better. (2021, December). Challenging ageism: A guide to talking about ageing and older age. https://ageing-better.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-01/Challenging-ageism-guide-talking-ageing-older-age.pdf
Editors of Merriam-Webster. (2022, January 10). What does “adultism” mean? The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/what-does-adultism-mean
Frey T, Young RK. Age and Sex Referents. In: Christiansen S, Iverson C, Flanagin A, et al. (2020). AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 11th ed. Oxford University Press. https://www.amamanualofstyle.com/view/10.1093/jama/9780190246556.001.0001/med-9780190246556-chapter-11-div1-28
Reframing Aging Initiative. Communication Best Practices: Reframing Aging Initiative Guide to Telling a More Complete Story of Aging. 2022. https://www.reframingaging.org/Portals/GSA-RA/images/RAI%20Communication%20Best%20Practices%20Guide%20220328.pdf?ver=yoPyMu-AfQLqH9ZuzKqjNw%3d%3d