Aged care advertising scares me. Like much else about aged care services in Australia, some advertisements stereotype residents. At least, that’s one conclusion I came to when a series of ads appeared in the newspaper my husband buys.
Definition (Macquarie Dictionary)
A stereotype is a mistaken idea or belief many people have about a thing or group that is based upon how they look on the outside, which may be untrue or only partly true. Stereotyping people is a type of prejudice because what is on the outside is a small part of who a person is.
Stereotyping older people can easily lead to ageism, which like sexism and racism, can cause painful discrimination against a large group of people who may have very few things in common. You can read another post about ageism here.
Aged care advertising
The first of the advertisements caught my attention recently among the election hype in the media over the past few weeks, but I let it go. Two similar half-pages a few days apart demanded a more thoughtful response.
Obviously, this specific aged care provider needs to recruit more recipients for its services, as well as residents for its facilities. It provides multiple services, including home care, retirement villages, serviced apartments and aged care ‘homes’.
The use of the word ‘homes’ in their advertising material references the term ‘nursing home’. That terminology changed when the Australian Aged Care Act 1997 came into operation. In the Aged Care Act, the more accurate concept ‘facility’ replaced the idea of a ‘home’.
Much as I would like to think of an aged care facility as a home, my imagination fails me. My work-life took me into too many of those places where frail aged people live out the end of their lives to ever think of them as homes.
I sometimes visit a relative who lives in an aged care facility, and there is nothing remotely home-like about the place in which she lives.
On my walks around my suburb, I regularly pass this aged care facility that currently advertises vacancies, as well as what I think may be some of its serviced apartments.
The buildings are elegant. The gardens manicured. The statuary behind the gates clever and fun. The buildings are gated.
Why the need to advertise?
Naturally, I can’t help wondering why the organisation needs to advertise.
I had thought there were too few beds available in aged care facilities. I’m told that people in urgent need of residential aged care languish in ‘care awaiting placement’ until permanent places can be found.
Many partners and families in Australia battle to care for frail relatives, often until they themselves are at breaking-point, before home care packages for which they are eligible become available.
Aged care, old women, residents, ‘life experts’
The three advertisements stereotype users of aged care. They feature pleasant-looking old women, all of whom are described as resident and ‘Life Expert’, whatever that might mean. Such a title has no relevance in this context.
All three have their age displayed prominently. Obviously, age creates life expertise and the more age the better.
The first name of each woman appears, but no last name. A person who is publicly reduced to a first name appears undignified, childlike. The practice is discriminatory. One woman, ‘Dot’, has been reduced to a diminutive, which infantalises her even further. I suppose it could be worse. They could have called her Dottie!
Unpacking the captions
The captions attached to the photos sadden me. They make the women appear hopeless and helpless. Here are the comments and my interpretations.
Caption one: ‘I don’t actually feel my age. Actually, I forget how old I am!’
Why doesn’t she feel her age? Has she lost her memory? That’s the implication in the second part of the quote. Or, more hopefully, she is having such a good time, enjoying her life in an aged care facility, that the time passes without her giving her age a second thought.
Caption two: ‘Try to go with the flow. You’ll be happier.’
This injunction has a ring of resignation. Once admitted as a resident, did she lose her former agency? Can she no longer say what she wants? Is she pushed from pillar to post, and the only way she can live is by accepting what other people do to her? If she objects will she be subjected to abuse? Labelled a nuisance?
Caption three: ‘When you get old, your sense of humour is all you have.’
Is this woman expressing her grief at the loss of everything she once held dear? She has obviously lost her former home and place in the community? Has she lost her decision-making capacity? Do other people make every decision for her? Is she reliant only on her sense of humour, I imagine a black one, to get her through each day?
I hope for their sakes, the women in these advertisements are models, paid to appear in such a dismal light. Sadly, though, the images and captions serve to reinforce the stereotypes of old people in aged care facilities who no longer have hope or agency over their own lives.
I want to urge them, and all of us, in the words of the poet, Dylan Thomas, who was reflecting on his father’s death,
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
We need to stand against the stereotyping of old people Everyone deserves to have our individuality recognised and honoured, in spite of where or how we live.
We have a responsibility to call out stereotypes that create ageism, sexism and racism. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept.
Ps. Since I wrote this post a few days ago, another ad in the series has appeared.