So many Canadians look down on seniors that ageism has become the most tolerated form of social discrimination in Canada, a new survey concludes.

A poll of 1,500 Canadians found eight in 10 believe seniors age 75 and older are seen as less important and are more ignored than younger generations.

Six in 10 seniors age 66 and older say they have been treated unfairly because of their age, while 35 per cent of Canadians admit they've treated someone differently because of their age.

The survey was conducted by Leger Marketing on behalf of Revera, a provider of seniors' accommodation, care and services.

According to the survey, the three most common forms of age discrimination faced by Canadian seniors are:

  • being ignored or treated as though they are invisible (41 per cent)
  • being treated like they have nothing to contribute (38 per cent)
  • assuming that seniors are incompetent (27 per cent)

Jane Barratt, the secretary general of the International Federation on Ageing, says it’s unfortunate that so many Canadians have such negative views about aging and the value of seniors, especially given that almost all of us will become seniors ourselves one day.

“By 2050, one in four Canadians will be a senior, and we all need to look at our behaviour because ageism is alongside racism and sexism as social prejudices. It’s a serious problem not only in Canada, but worldwide,” she told CTV’s Canada AM Friday.

The vast majority of Canadians -- 89 per cent -- associate aging with negative outcomes such as being alone and losing independence, the survey found. And yet older Canadians are more likely than all other generations to say that "age is just a number." In fact, 40 per cent of those 66 years of age and older say they believe the "best is yet to come."

“As we grow older, we become much more optimistic,” says Barratt. “Younger Canadians might see older people as burdensome and grumpy, not involved in the community. But that’s a real misconception that we need to end.”

Ageism is not just reflected in the negative attitudes and stereotypes many younger Canadians have. It’s also seen in the way society is structured based on the assumption that everyone is young. That assumption often means that society fails to respond to the real needs of older people.

That may be why one in four Canadians (27 per cent) say they've experienced age discrimination from government, meaning they’ve noticed programs, policies and services that do not take into account the needs of older people.

One-third of seniors also say they’ve faced discrimination from health-care professionals and the health-care system because of their age. Many of these seniors say health-care professionals tend to dismiss their complaints as inevitable parts of aging, rather than fixable problems.

The solution to ageism, say the authors of the Revera report , starts with understanding that ageism is not just an old person’s problem: it’s a societal problem. Previous Revera research suggests that 85 per cent of baby boomers, who are now just beginning to retire, say they want a different aging experience than that of their parents or grandparents.

“Against this backdrop, we need to challenge our assumptions of aging and recognize the valuable contributions of older adults to society,” the report concludes.