We all have images of ourselves. These images include both knowledge of our “actual age” and our "subjective age" (how old we feel). There are many older adults who feel "younger" at retirement then they did while working and there are those older adults whose young, subjective image has not been changed by illness or disability. If someone develops a disability in their teens, twenties or thirties, they do not think of themselves as being old because of their disability; similarly an older adult can separate illness or disability from how they feel inside.
Just like you have an image of yourself (i.e. friendly, fun-loving, open-minded) older adults also have a self-image. There is evidence that self-image is pretty stable throughout life. Older people may feel that they have changed in terms of health as they have gotten older, but they generally do not feel that they have changed in terms of personal characteristics. Do you think that if you talked to them about themselves their feelings would be that much different than yours?
Most of us have an image of the way we are perceived by those around us. Older people may feel they are well-treated or that they are poorly treated. Some older people feel that society has more than one attitude. For example, it is not uncommon for older people to feel that they have experienced a lack of respect, loss of authority and social standing.
Ageism, a type of discrimination that many people do not recognize, refers to the stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals or groups because of their age. For example, ageism can include denying older people medical care because they are "too old to benefit," even though care could save lives or reduce disability. Some commonly held negative stereotypes about the elderly include: being old means being physically disabled; all elderly are alike; old people "lose their minds"; or the elderly are a burden, they don’t do anything worthwhile. These negative stereotypes can influence your opinions about the elderly and may cause you to consider the elderly different and separate from everyone else. This may cause some to think of the elderly as less worthy than other groups of people or cause us to feel afraid of our own aging. These negative thoughts cause some to behave differently towards the elderly such as ignoring the elderly; treating them as sickly and addled when they are not; excluding them from activities; or forcing them to retire before they want to.
Bringing generations together increases cooperation, interaction, and exchange between young and old. Studies of “intergenerational programs” show that participation not only improves the knowledge and attitudes of children and teenagers about the elderly, but they can also change behaviors. Young people who participate in these programs are more willing to share, help and cooperate with elderly persons. Both young and old benefit from the program’s success and find these programs immensely rewarding.