Aging and Ageism - An interview with Thomas Sturge

"Well, family is that way. I have a wonderful daughter, I love her like crazy, but when she comes to see me, she almost starts to treat me like if I am a kid. She's doing it from her heart, but she ends up trying making decisions, but when you start letting other people make your decisions you, lose control. And then I think your life deteriorates." - Thomas Sturge, a fantastic initiative from Revera Inc, a leading provider of Retirement Communities and Long-term Care Services for seniors, discusses and counteracts ageism since 2012. According to their research, “1 in 4 Canadians—from Gen Y to Boomers—admit they have treated someone differently because of their age.” Ageism is considered to be the most tolerated form of prejudice in Canada, but not less harmful to its victims than other kinds of discriminatory behaviours.

Embracing the efforts of Revera to spread the awareness of ageism and to show what each of us can do to extinguish it, SeniorsZen brings the full interview with Thomas Sturge, a 79-years-old resident of one of Revera’s communities. Mr. Sturge brought light to a few aspects of aging and how he thinks older people should behave to reduce age discrimination. I would like to thank Mr. Sturge for his wonderful contribution! It was trully inpiring!

Read the full article about "Ageism, indenpendence and choice in retirement communities​" here:


SeniorsZen: Do you think your perception of elder’s capacity changed as you aged?

It’s an interesting question, because I had different perceptions of people depending on their health, if they were healthy, which I’m relatively healthy, my perception of how I am at the age of 79 is what I’ve perceived it would be. But I see a lot of people who have health problem and to be honest with you, a lot of people at the age of 70 have a lot of problems, and you can see by looking at them that they walk slower, a lot of them use wheelchairs or they have walkers or canes, so if your health is good, then, which I'm lucky enough with my situation, that’s fine, but if your health is not good… 

 We forget that, if an individual feels in control of its life, they generally have a greater life satisfaction. So if you get someone who thinks healthy or stays healthy, then they can keep control, but once you are unhealthy you lose control to doctors, or family or friends. Maybe they don't mean to, but they start wanting to do things for you. Sometimes it's easy for people to do things for you, but if you let people do things for you, you start losing control. And that's one of the problems I think with people when they get older is that, instead of doing less exercise, they probably should do more. If they are already watching their waist line, then they should probably watch even more than they are watching it. And that could be difficult, depending on whether you are cooking or somebody else is cooking for you... I mean here at The Kensington it's like living in a cruise ship, except there's no waves around where you are, so it's easy [to let others do things] for me if I didn't watch it, not being the way I am, but that's because I work at it.  

SeniorsZen:Could you think of things you consider yourself capable of doing but that you are refrained from doing, even if it’s by good-intentioned people?

Well, family is that way. I have a wonderful daughter, I love her like crazy, but when she comes to see me, she almost starts to treat me like if I am a kid. She's doing it from her heart, but she ends up trying making decisions, but when you start letting other people make your decisions, you lose control. And then I think your life deteriorates. I have a 98-year-old mother and most of the time my sister makes decisions for her, so I would think that the satisfaction level of her life probably is gone down hill. But I could be wrong, maybe she loves it [laughing]. 

I know one thing that people when they get their [driver's] licence taken away, they really, really feel a loss of independence. Society in general thinks that as you get older your driving gets worse, and to be honest with you, I don't think I drive as well as I did 20 years ago, I don't think my reflexes are well, so consequently I compensate by staying in the slower lane rather than always being on the fast lane. I can't understand why people think older people cause problems. They [older people] may be driving at the speed limit while people behind them want to drive faster, so they [younger people] tend to get agitated and blame the senior when the senior may be one of the few obeying the law.  

SeniorsZen: Do you think people tend to have less patience with elders and blame them for situations that anyone of any age could fall into as well?

I think sometimes people get confused with situations that are not normal situations, I will give an example: I very seldom drive in Vancouver, but my daughter lives in Vancouver, so I took my car over and I was driving in Vancouver and, to be honest with you, I wasn't driving very well, because there were much more traffic and it was raining... And my daughter actually said to me, "you know, maybe you should consider stopping your driving", which later on I think she was confused with a short-term problem versus a long-term problem. Short-term problem was that I was in a city that I was not used t0 driving in and a traffic that I was not used to, consequently, but she made it that I shouldn't be driving at all. Well, since that time she has been with me driving probably a 100 miles and never had a problem, but that’s one place where I think that they have a perception that we can't do things and the only reason is that most people can't do things if it's a new situation.

SeniorsZen: Could you give examples of ageism you have suffered or seen?

I will give you a situation that I think a lot of old people get kind of blamed for, if you want to call it that, it's with technology today. Technology today is heads and tails faster and different than what it was 40 years ago, and there’s a lot of seniors who had not taken the time to learn all this new technology, they will need to, I mean, there are people who don't have cellphone. The world is not going to come to an end because you don’t have a cellphone, but the younger generation, they don't understand that. They think that, well, you are getting old. I have a computer, I use email, Facebook, that's because I found a use for them, but there’s a lot of the new stuff that I don't use, so I don't bother. I mean, I have a cellphone, but I only use it in case of emergencies, because that was my choice. 

One of the reasons that there’s prejudice against elder people is because... I know people that don't even have a computer. Sometimes you do have to try to keep up with the world, I think seniors have to stand up for themselves and seniors have to do something about it. When you are 10 years old, you couldn't do what a 15 or 20 years old could do, but you developed habits, you went to school, you did the things so you were ready when you were 20. Seniors got to do the same, they got to not stop learning, because if they stop learning, the world is going to pass them by. I believe that old people can do whatever they set their mind to. But if you let the world run you over, guess what is going to happen, you are going to get run over. 

SeniorsZen: In your opinion, how could retirement communities better address ageism? Where do you see room for improvement?

I find that getting somebody to help you, if you are the one asking for the help is a lot satisfactory-wise then if someone comes insisting that you get someone to help you. But if I have to factor danger, I meant if you have somebody who's falling, somebody who's got dementia... My wife has dementia, so she has to be taken care of because she's not able to control herself. But even then, people at the hospital try to get her to do things for her own. If you can do things on your own, you should be encouraged to do them. But if you try to endanger yourself or somebody else, it changes the situation.

SeniorsZen: How retirement communities could encourage independence?

Communities can encourage it by creating conditions for [continuing] learning, maybe bringing some tutors to give free lessons on computer, or some of the new stuff, that's a good idea! 


By Eveline Pinto


Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives via Design Blog / No known copyright restrictions

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