(Version published in the Hamilton Spectator: December 18, 2023)
By: Yasmin Khalili
As another year passes, millions of the Baby Boomer generation move further into their golden years. It’s estimated that the number of older adults aged 60 and over will double by 2050, and as a result the scope of ageism is expected to expand globally.
Ageism is a pervasive form of negative stereotyping against people solely based on their age. Although it can also affect young people, it predominantly targets older adults. It can lead to unfair treatment, exclusion or marginalization based on age, which can have significant health consequences.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ageism is widespread in health care around the world. It affects every aspect of care from prevention, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. Research shows that age discrimination by health-care providers has negative consequences on the health, wellbeing and quality of care received by older adults.
One common stereotype is that certain health conditions are an inevitable part of aging, leading health-care providers to overlook potential interventions or undertreat specific conditions. Even an older person’s internalized ageist beliefs may further contribute to their own declining health since they may not seek medical treatment thinking that their symptoms are just part of aging.
What can we do as health-care providers to combat ageism?
- Knowing is half the battle – becoming aware of ageism is an important step in reflecting on how it may shape one’s own thoughts, feelings and life experiences.
- Participate in ongoing training programs that focus on the care of older adults in order to understand their unique health challenges.
- Involve older adults in decisions about their care and ensure they have the information and support needed to make informed choices about their health.
- Optimize interactions with older adults by speaking respectfully and avoiding patronizing or condescending language.
- Advocate for programs, policy and guidelines that aim to increase intergenerational activities to reduce prejudice and negative attitudes on ageing.
- Collaborate with Advocacy Groups that focus on older adults’ rights and health to collectively address ageism in healthcare.
What can older adults do to prepare for a visit with a health-care provider? The Hamilton Council on Aging suggests the following:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Write down any questions you want to ask your health-care provider.
- Prepare a list of medications and ask someone to accompany you to help, as needed.
- During the visit, you should record any new diagnosis, medications, treatments, tests or instructions and ask why a new medication or treatment has been prescribed.
Overall, ageism is a harmful form of discrimination that affects the health and wellbeing of people of all ages, but especially older adults. Combating ageism in health care requires a collective effort by all. Governments and institutions need to continue adopting and supporting senior-friendly strategies in their policies and staff education since they possess the most power to create and sustain change.
We as health-care providers have a role to play in challenging stereotypes and promoting optimal health for older people, and older adults should always advocate for their health care.
For more resources:
Yasmin Khalili, RN, BScN, MScN, is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Hospital Elder Life Program, Hamilton Health Sciences. For information or to donate to the Hamilton Council on Aging, please visit hamiltoncoa.com