Roles For Older Adults in Film and The Academy Awards

indexIt’s wonderful to see so many talented older thespians gracing the big screen in popular movies these days. This year’s Academy Award nominations honoured several roles portrayed by older adults (60+).

Below is a sample of the outstanding roles portrayed by older actors and actresses in 2015 film:

  1. Creed. Sylvester Stallone, age 69, is nominated for best actor in a supporting role as the former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa.
  2. 45 Years. Charlotte Rampling, age 69, is nominated for best actress for her portrayal of a woman who learns that her husband was once engaged to another woman shortly before their 45th wedding anniversary.
  3. Mad Max Fury Road. Nominated for best picture. Hugh Keays-Byrne, age 69, plays the primary antagonist. Keays-Byrne is reprising his original role from the first Mad Max film made in 1979.
  4. The Martian. Jeff Daniels, age 61, plays a NASA administrator in the best picture nominated film The Martian.
  5. Spotlight. Nominated for best picture. Michael Keaton, age 64, portrays the editor of the Spotlight team in this true story on how the Boston Globe uncovered a cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.

Cheer on your favourite nominee during the 88th annual academy awards ceremony on Sunday, February 28th.

Guest blog: Ageism in Health Care

by Susan Pratten
Part 2

Ageist beliefs that older adults are weak and frail do not reflect the fact that the majority of persons over 65 consider themselves in good health. Recent research by psychologist and assistant professor, Yale School of Public Health, Becca Levy PhD, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, describes how attitudes towards aging have a measurable effect on how people age. Positive attitudes of aging improve mental and physical function while negative ones can harm physical and cognitive health. This is not a simple causal relationship but people with negative self-perceptions around aging are less likely to engage in healthy practices like having regular checkups, controlling weight and diet, and exercising, and vice versa.

Will Ageism be eradicated in Your Lifespan?

Popular efforts to challenge ageism have consisted of Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to portray older persons who have aged outside of the typical ageist profile, often highlighting what society views as youthful appearance, or extraordinary achievement. Preoccupation with such exceptions is itself ageist.

Over the last fifteen years in Ontario there have been a number of educational ageism awareness initiatives (e.g. Best Before sticker) but there is little, if any, evidence that they have had an impact on reducing ageism. Intergenerational interventions have documented a number of benefits to participants, but the effect on ageism is mixed. Further research is warranted.

There have also been a growing number of calls to action (e.g. Time For Action: Advancing the Rights of Older Persons in Ontario and OCSCO Positive Active Aging Forum) for community and government partners to ensure that their policies and programs will not result in marginalization, disadvantage and discrimination for older persons. Late in 2015, the World Health Organization launched their call for action for an age-friendly world, which, among other actions, advocates for ones that “combat ageism, enable autonomy and support Healthy Ageing in all policies and at all levels of government”.

Theatre Production to Combat Ageism

Impatient with how entrenched ageism is in spite of efforts to reduce it, Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of The Eden Alternative and Green House Project, initiated his Age of Disruption Tour, a theatrical and musical performance designed to challenge ageist stereotypes, and promote the concept of change at both the community and personal levels. The Tour brought 101 live events to 30 cities in 20 states. Dates and locations are being scheduled for 2016.

Top Three Recommendations

  1. Engage in consciousness raising by acknowledging personal views about age and aging, including fears about loss and death.
  2. Ensure an intersectionality approach to understanding health disparities and exploring solutions by including older persons representing gender, disability, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, culture and language.
  3. Build evaluative frameworks into all programs and initiatives to determine their effectiveness in altering views about aging and in changing the way older people are treated in regard to their competence and value in society.

Anti-ageism Websites

This Chair Rocks: Pushing Back Against Ageism – Which Affects Everyone

The Radical Age Movement: Leveraging the Power of Age

Silver Century Foundation

Susan Pratten M.S.W., RSW is a professor in the Social Service Worker-Gerontology program in the Faculty of Applied Health and Community Studies at Sheridan College.

Guest Blog: Ageism In Healthcare

By Susan Pratten
Part One

Ageism can be a cause for both individual acts of age discrimination and for discrimination that is more systemic in nature, such as in the provision of services and programs and in the development of structures such as housing and health care facilities, including hospitals and clinics.

It has been 50 years since Dr. Robert Butler coined the term ‘ageism’, a way of thinking about older persons based on primarily negative attitudes and stereotypes about their perceived age with associated beliefs about their competencies and abilities. Ageist views equate aging with decline and a diminished human value, which condones inferior conditions (e.g. segregated housing, poverty), unequal treatment (e.g. transportation, employment, health care), abuse and neglect.

According to the Revera Report on Ageism, published by Revera, a seniors’ care provider, and the International Federation on Ageing (IFA), more than one-third of Canadians admit to ageist behaviour; and 71 per cent agree older people are less valued than younger generations. Regarding discrimination encountered from the health care system, 78% of older persons reported their health concerns were dismissed as being an inevitable part of aging. The report concluded that ageism is the most tolerated form of social discrimination in Canada when compared to gender or race-based discrimination. There is growing evidence that ageism is institutionalized in health care which puts the health and quality of life of older adults at risk.

Nobody is Born Ageist

Attitudes and stereotypes about age begin to form in early childhood and are internalized throughout adulthood. The understanding and challenging of age related prejudice is complex given we are all aging. The study of aging and work with older adults is intertwined with our fears about the aging process and fears associated with illness, death and decline.

A key part of ageism is reluctance to admit personal aging. How many have heard a person over 70 say they will not go to a retirement home because too many old people live there? Stereotyping, the assumption that all members of a group are the same underlies ageism and yet as people age the more heterogeneous the population becomes.

Age and Intersectionality

The Ontario Human Rights Commission acknowledges that people may experience disadvantage in unique ways based on the intersection of age with other aspects of their identity. Consider how ageism is compounded with a resulting increase in social and health barriers when older persons are older women, persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered persons, or persons from diverse linguistic, religious, ethnic or racial backgrounds. As an example, aging has a disproportionate effect on women with disabilities who are especially vulnerable to discrimination, economic disadvantage and barriers to adequate health care.

Ageism within Health Care

Ageism within health care can take several forms, including health professionals having negative attitudes towards older people, engaging in patronizing behaviour, denying or limiting services, and by not including aging issues in training material or educational offerings even though it is clear that the growing proportion of consumers, clients and patients will be older adults.

Ageism fosters pity instead of empathy, promotes rescue instead of empowerment, and can lead to frustration and anger at the older person. It extends to the devaluing of careers in aging, which has resulted in a severe shortage of geriatricians and other social and health professionals to care for the needs of the aging population. No Ontario medical school, for example, currently offers core training in geriatrics. Sheridan College in Ontario is one of the few Colleges in Canada with a social service specialization in gerontology. It is essential that all programs that educate professionals who work with older persons include knowledge about aging and age discrimination within their curricula.

Look for part two on January 20, 2016.
Susan Pratten M.S.W., RSW is a professor in the Social Service Worker-Gerontology program in the Faculty of Applied Health and Community Studies at Sheridan College.

The Aging Matters blog is changing in 2016
The Sheridan Centre for Elder Research will continue to write about current
and relevant issues related to aging the first Wednesday of every month.
Our guest bloggers will be contributing the third Wednesday of each month.

Guest Blog: What’s Age Got To Do With It?

By Neel Desai

As an entrepreneur developing a service for the 50+ plus demographic, I have struggled, as have many others to find a name for this group. After all, marketers and businesses alike have created distinct customer segments with infants (birth-12 months), toddlers
(1-4 years), children (5-10), pre-teens (11-12), teens (13-17), and young adults (18-25).
So naturally, by extension, I thought someone over 50 years of age would be called an ‘older adult’.

But we’ve also heard terms such as seniors, elders, the elderly, mature adults, retirees, Boomers, and Zoomers used to refer to the same group of people, which then begs to ask a number of questions: Where do these other labels fit? Are they interchangeable? Are any of them offensive? Surely someone who is 50 years of age, wouldn’t want to be called ‘old’. I doubt anyone over 90 would want to be called ‘old’ either. Unsure of any of these answers, I found myself back to the beginning, scrambling for a label to describe people over 50 and soon found myself using all of the labels interchangeably to ensure I was covering everyone; needless to say, not a great strategy.

Unpleased with the outcome, I then thought to try a different approach by finding common characteristics of this age group. I first looked at their interests: some enjoyed reading, watching movies, taking classes, while some enjoyed snowboarding, swimming, rock climbing, water skiing, or travelling.

Next, I looked at personal relationships: some had always been single, some divorced, some widowed, some re-married, some were parents, some grandparents, some were in long-term relationships, some had many friends, and some needed more. Then I looked at health: some were in wheelchairs, some used canes, some were bed-ridden with medical problems, but some were healthier than they had ever been, both mentally and physically. Lastly I looked at career: some were starting new businesses, some were working, some were retired, some worked reduced hours, some were looking for work, and some had given-up looking for work after dealing with age discrimination.

After this entire exercise, the only thing I COULD find in common was that they all had naturally graying or white hair. In fact, if you Google the word ‘SENIORS’ a commonly used name for this group and click on the ‘IMAGES’ tab, what you see almost exclusively are pictures of people standing, smiling, and – you guessed it, with white hair.

So then it started to make sense, that with decades’ worth of interests, hobbies, relationships, memories, and multiple-careers it was impossible to think of them as one group. Unlike tots, children, teenagers, young adults, in trying to speak to a group with so much diversity, I was in fact, not speaking to anyone.

For businesses and innovators, it is however, easier for us to compartmentalize and segment to help our understanding and control our outcomes. In fact, there already exists large organizations with ubiquitous influence that have branded themselves as a destination for people over 45 or for people over 50. For myself and many business owners small, medium, and large that regularly pitch to investors looking to secure funding, there is a distinct advantage to having a large target market. If you’re looking to raise money, and there exists an accepted convention of labelling a people as 50+, why would you under-state your market size and make the investment less attractive? There are other challenges, but it brings us back to the question if you’re not able to speak to people as individuals, how much value is your product or service providing?

So instead of creating a valuable product or service ‘for people over 50’, maybe just focus on creating value. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand the characteristics of your customer, it just makes a point of questioning what ‘age’ has to do with it.


Neel Desai is co-founder of a, an online global book-club for people over 50, older adults, seniors, boomers, zoomers, elders, empty nesters, retirees…..and everyone else outside and in between. Email:, Twitter: @bugsomeone, Facebook: