Find Senior Living Near You
Join 1,085,046 Seniors Who've Found Housing Communities on SeniorLiving.org.
Find Senior Living Near You:
Experts say it starts with changing the way society thinks about aging. Despite the advances in medicine giving humanity longevity, our fate of living longer lives remain riddled with discrimination and prejudice. Ideally, we consider ourselves equal regardless of our race, income, gender, or age. But the reality is, today’s society treats older people unfairly often lumping all aged 65 and up into a group of old, frail, decrepit, forgetful and sickly beings separate from the rest of society.
Ageism or age discrimination has deeply permeated our culture, mindsets and attitudes. People are so afraid of aging that they consider older people others. Experts call this the “us versus them” mentality. It is so common that even the healthcare system which is supposed to be responsible for providing care older people deserve continues to belittle the dangers of ageism.
According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, one out of five older adults experiences ageism in health care settings and those who frequently experience it have a higher risk of developing a new disability or worsening existing ones. Every day, around 10,000 Americans turn 65 and the numbers are expected to rise as mortality rates decline. More and more experts believe that it is high time for ageism in health care to be put in the limelight.
A new research published by The Frameworks Institute (FI) found that most Americans are not aware of the dangers of ageism. The researchers call this the “cognitive hole” or the people’s way of individualizing aging problems and not recognizing ageism as a ubiquitous problem for all. The FI’s Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understanding of Aging in America report was made to understand how people think about aging and use the results to identify challenging misperceptions that need to be changed by the whole society. In spite of the reality that older Americans continue to be ostracized from participating in socio-civic activities and opportunities such as employment, recreational activities, housing, business and others, the concept of ageism remain absent from the public’s perception of what growing old means. Some older adults even accept that the discrimination they face is just a normal part of being in the last stage of living.
In the report, aging should be considered by society as “both a personal and a shared resource and opportunity”. This rethinking makes us view older Americans are as “central rather than marginal participants in our collective life as a nation.” The study recommends developing information tools and ways to help society “reframe” or change their understanding and perception of the aging process. This reframing, they say, can lead to changing policy for the betterment of older generations.
To fight ageism, experts suggest starting changing the way we perceive aging. We should know how ageism manifests and be able to recognize ageist situation, especially within the healthcare system.
Experts say that older patients comprise around 27 percent of all doctor’s visits and 35 percent of all hospital stays. Negative views about them can bring unnecessary stigma that weakens the healthcare system’s capability to treat one of their major clientele. It also hinders from adding more capable medical practitioners to the workforce. Ageism among medical providers is either done obviously or unconsciously and causes real damage to the patient. In Dr. Karin Ouchida and Dr. Mark Lams’ article on Ageism in Healthcare, they enumerated several manifestations of ageism in our health care system.
Because of these kinds’ ageist comments, geriatrics as a profession is stigmatized as a frustrating and less rewarding specialization, making doctors in training adamant in pursuing the career. The negative thinking of medical practitioners towards older adults hinder in recruiting more medical professionals to practice gerontology.
Another popular example of under treatment is ignoring other causes of complaints such as lifestyle, relationships and home situation. A doctor attributed the bruises on an older patient’s arm as normal effects of anticoagulants to an aging body, without inquiring further if there is violence in the family. Another patient complains of frequent headaches, memory loss and confusion but the doctor just assumes it normal for all older people to experience that and not conducting tests that may rule out brain tumor. There were also a lot of cases wherein doctors just assume that their patients are sexually inactive because of their age and fail to treat ailments such as erectile dysfunction, sexually transmitted disease and HIV.
To policy makers and economists, the overtreatment widely given to older adults is a complete waste of public funds. According to their estimate, one-third of the budget for health is spent on waste. Overtreatment waste in the past cost the country around $158 to $226 billion.
Doctors talking about older patient’s condition to a third party instead of directly to them is also a hindrance in developing a good doctor-patient relationship. Sometimes they tend to leave out the patients in the conversation about their own health. There are also times when nurses and other staff talk about their older patients in front of them as if they are not there.
Multiple studies have shown that these ageist acts are disrespectful, demeaning and can cause lower self-esteem and depression among older patients.
For Dr. Ouchida and Lam, getting rid of Ageist Attitudes in Our health System requires medical practitioners to “recognize and appreciate the heterogeneity of older adults” through effective integration and exposure with them outside the hospital setting. Heterogeneity means, like any age group, older adults also differ in their functional status, health, and financial situation. Some older people are still strong, active, and sharp in their 80s while some may be weaker than others. And when it comes to race, income, gender, education, class and social status, disparities also apply to them as well as these apply to anyone.
We should all start changing our unpleasant perceptions about aging and embrace aging for what it is – a normal process of living that doesn’t necessarily mean disability, disease, and decline. According to the Framework Institute’s research, reshaping our negative thinking towards older people entails making adjustments in ensuring that older people are not isolated from the rest society and still contribute to it. This includes making better age-friendly policies increasing their opportunities for employment, transportation, HealthCare, community development and housing. “Our retirement culture were just not designed to support an aging society,” one expert from the study said. “We need to reengineer [our] institutions if we are going to be able to have a productive, secure, cohesive society.” Fighting ageism in the health care system isn’t just about changing individual mindsets but also applying positive attitudes on aging to change policies and systems. Based on their research; Framework Institute recommends the following systematic changes to achieve a truly age-friendly society;
Fighting ageism is simply a matter of defending equality and justice. Changing our minds on aging and fostering a future free from discrimination is in a way, giving respect and honor to the contributions older adults made for our society. If we start crushing the pillars of ageism now, the one who would greatly benefit from the downfall is not just our generation, but also the next.
Call Us Toll Free
Request More Information