An Influences of Media Portrayal of the Elderly

Subject: Media
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 879
Topics: Ageism, Journalism, Mass Media, Social Issues
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The media has greatly influenced the attitude of people towards the elderly. The portrayal of older people through media adverts, television programs, magazines, and newspapers greatly influence how people view older adults in the society. They not only reflect but also inform public attitude, thoughts, and feelings about older people. A larger percentage of the public views the elderly as frail, helpless, dependent, bothersome, and incompetent. Both the explicit and implicit messages presented by the media influence people’s perception of old age and the elderly. However, implicit messages have debilitating effects on both the public and the elderly. This study will analyze four media resources geared towards older adults to identify how they portray the older adults and discuss the impacts of the implicit messages within the media.

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The media resources were selected from local, national, and international levels to have a wider look at how the media portrays the elderly. The first media resource was the Elderly section of the New York Times. This media resource was selected to provide an international perspective on the portrayal of the elderly in the news. Analysis of ten articles from the media resource indicated that the elderly were being portrayed negatively in the media resource. This conclusion was supported by previous studies which indicated that newspapers portrayal of the elderly and old age has been more negative than positive (Fealy, Mcnamara, Treacy, and Lyon, 2011). There was no balance between positive and negative perceptions of the elderly. On one of the articles, an elderly Indian woman is pictured lonely, looking weak and miserable (Ray, 2017). Such visual cues influence people to characterize old adults as weak, miserable, needy, and lonely people. The second news resource was the Elderly people section of the BBC news website.

BBC News is an international news source hence it greatly influences people’s attitudes towards the elderly depending on how it portrays the elderly.  Contrary to the New York Times, the Elderly People section of the BBC news was more positive towards the elderly. Most of the articles portrayed older adults as energetic, sportsmen and women, working, happy, independent, and interactive (BBC News, 2017). Such a message nurtures positive thoughts, attitudes, and feelings about the elderly and people can appreciate aging as a normal stage in life. Furthermore, the study involved the analysis of the agency websites geared towards the elderly in the City of Los Angeles. One such agency is the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging (LDOA) which provides assisted care to the elderly in community care centers located in Los Angeles (LADOA, n.d). The agency was selected to determine how such agencies dedicated to the care of the elderly portray their clients. The agency among others in the city that were reviewed aimed at ensuring independence among the elderly by providing assisted care to them at the community homes, a suggestion that the agencies understand the need of continued independence at old age. The visual cues in the agency websites are positive as they portray the elderly as happy and participatory; for instance in sporting activities.

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The fourth media was the AARP magazine, a high ranking elderly magazine in the United States. The media was chosen to determine how an elderly magazine promotes for healthy, happy, and productive life after retirement. The magazine portrays elderly people positively by recognizing the achievements of the elderly in sports, education, and entertainment industry (AARP, 2017). The visual cues in the cover stories and the content positively portray the elderly as productive people in the society. AARP magazine conducted a study confirming the influence of media on the attitudes of people towards old age and the elderly. Participants in the study indicated that negative portrayal of the elderly as frail, dependent, sad, and lonely influenced their attitudes towards the elderly and aging (David, 2013). Such studies indicate the need for the media to reverse the negative stereotypes of aging by positively portraying the aged and old age.

People interact with media almost daily and they greatly shape the perception of people about the society and the world. Societal attitudes towards the elderly will at a larger percentage reflect what the media is portraying. Continuous exposure to the visual cues and negative stereotypes in the media creates a negative behavior towards the elderly (Kaskinen, Salminen, and Leion-Kilpi, 2014). The negative portrayal of aging and the elderly have negative implications for both the people and the older adults being stereotyped. People tend to fear to age as they view it as a state of suffering, loneliness, and loss of independence. To the stereotyped elderly people, the negative implicit messages can affect the quality of care given to them and can also result in mental problems (Phelan, 2010). Therefore, the media is very influential in determining the quality of life and care at old age.

In conclusion, the negative implicit messages within the media including advertisements, television shows, newspapers, and magazines negatively influence the attitudes of people towards the elderly. However, positive portrayals of the elderly that have been seen in the media such as, vibrancy, independence, and good physical conditions have the potential to positively shape people’s attitudes towards old age and the elderly and improve their care.

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  1. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) (2017). AARP The Magazine – Feel Great. Save Money. Have Fun. https://www.aarp.org/magazine/
  2. BBC News (2017). Flight attendant still working at 81. Elderly People – BBB News. http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-42197175/flight-attendant-still-working-at-81?intlink_from_url=&link_location=live-reporting-map
  3. David, P. (2013). Attitudes of aging – Qualitative Approach. AARP Research.
  4. Fealy, G., Mcnamara, M., Treacy, M. P., & Lyons, I. (2011). Constructing ageing and age identities: a case study of newspaper discourses. Ageing and Society, 32(01), 85-102. doi:10.1017/s0144686x11000092
  5. Koskinen, S., Salminen, L., & Leino-Kilpi, H. (2014). Media portrayal of older people as illustrated in Finnish newspapers. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 9(1), 25304. doi:10.3402/qhw.v9.25304
  6. Phelan, A. (2010). Socially constructing older people: examining discourses which can shape nurses’ understanding and practice. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 67(4), 893-903. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05536.x
  7. Roy, S. (2017). Old and Lonely in New India. Elderly – The New York Times.  Retrieved December 06, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/27/opinion/old-and-lonely-in-new-india.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FElderly&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=5&pgtype=collection&referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2Ftopic%2Fsubject%2Felderly
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