Torrens University Australia is Challenging Ageism

Launched in June 2023, Torrens University’s new free online short course, ‘Challenging Ageism’, will give you the skills to recognise ageism in daily life and strategies to help tackle ageism whenever you come across it.

Ageism is a global phenomenon, entrenched in Australian society and around the world. Yet its harmful impact is generally unseen.

This June, Torrens University launched a free online 1-hour short course to help individuals from all walks of life understand what ageism is and the serious consequences it has for society.

Challenging Ageism’ has been designed by Dr Rachel Ambagtsheer, Research Fellow and Senior Learning Facilitator, from the Torrens University Adelaide campus. Rachel has been with Torrens since 2016 and she is also the Principal Investigator for a large MRFF (Medical Research Future Fund) funded project titled IMPAACT (IMproving the PArticipation of older Australians in policy decision-making on common health CondiTions), which is aligned with this short course.

What do you aim to achieve with this Ageism short course?

‘We hope to raise awareness of how widespread ageism is,’ Rachel explains, ‘to give course participants the skills to recognise it and provide them with actionable strategies and ideas for tackling ageism wherever they might encounter it.’

Why do we need to raise awareness and reduce ageism?

‘It is entrenched within society. For example, people think nothing about making an age-related joke or comment, and indeed, frequently make those jokes and comments about themselves. This shows the inherent bias we all carry within us around ageing. It truly is everywhere,’ Rachel says.

What does your research tell us about the effect of ageism on older people’s health and wellbeing?

‘We know that ageism – whether it’s directed towards oneself or comes from others, such as healthcare providers, can have significant negative impacts on older people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing; it can lead to social isolation and loneliness; and, as the WHO (World Health Organisation) has identified, ageism can contribute to financial insecurity and a decreased quality of life.

‘Pervasive ageism in the healthcare sector can also affect older people’s access to preventative and curative interventions. For example, older people who go to their doctor about muscular pain might be told, “Oh, that’s just old age” and dismissed without further investigation. Also, these engrained attitudes may create blind spots regarding who might be considered eligible for treatment such as surgery and who isn’t, depending on the patient’s age.

‘As well, negative self-perceptions of ageing among older people can have an impact on their ability to advocate for themselves. They might not believe they’re entitled to a service because they are, in their minds, “too old”.’

What is the impact of ageism on society?

Rachel says, ‘Ageism costs our societies billions of dollars because of the detrimental impact it can have on older people’s health. And as well as all the financial implications, ageism essentially contributes to a more unfair, unequal and divisive society. What we call systemic or structural ageism, which may be entrenched in a workplace whose HR policies discriminate against older people, for example, has a significant impact on how society’s organised and how we view older people. That impact trickles down to the individual, who absorbs the ageist messages. It is a perpetuating cycle.’

Is there evidence of ageism directed at all ages including youth?

‘Ageism can be experienced by anyone at any age,’ says Rachel, ‘and younger people can most definitely encounter the prejudices and discrimination that are part of it. However, we have chosen to explore ageism as experienced by older people in our course, both to align with our broader research programs at Torrens and to raise awareness of some of the common stereotypes that are typically applied to older people.’

Who would benefit from taking this short course?

‘The short course is open to anyone with an interest in learning how to recognise and challenge ageism. Unfortunately, most of us will encounter ageism at some point in our lives – whether we are on the receiving end or see it being directed at someone else.

‘Although the course is pitched at an introductory level and assumes no prior knowledge,’ Rachel explains, ‘ageism is one of those topics where the more you learn, the more there is to learn. So, I hope even those who consider themselves quite well versed in the topic will get something out of it too.’

How can the course assist people to build their own self-awareness against ageism?

“Challenging Ageism” should enable course participants to uncover and reflect on their own unconscious biases and assumptions. And maybe it will help them to consider how their biases might have an impact on their own experiences of ageing.’

How does this short course differ from other awareness training?

‘There are actually very few ageism courses available, reflecting the invisibility of ageism. I think we are offering a unique perspective with respect to making the invisible visible.’

This course aligns with our commitment at Torrens University to Be Good

Our course, ‘Challenging Ageism’, is part of Torrens’ commitment to Be Good, to contribute to society beyond our daily programs of teaching and research. That’s one of the reasons why we have designed it to be accessible, short and free of charge to everyone.