Age discrimination is a severe phenomenon with multiple ramifications. While it’s a common occurrence in the workplace, where people’s professional abilities are misjudged due to their age, it remains as pervasive among retirees. One manifestation is ageism directed at elders in need of healthcare assistance.
How Age Discrimination Manifests
Age discrimination comes from a series of stereotypes and prejudices that people hold sometimes without realizing it, and which affects their behavior towards a person from a particular age group. While it can manifest implicitly or explicitly, age discrimination can happen anywhere, either in formal or informal relationships.
Why Age Discrimination Affects Healthcare Quality
Some of the most vulnerable victims of age discrimination or ageism are elders in need of healthcare. This manifests in multiple ways and affects their relationship with healthcare providers. For example, a physician might be inclined to say that a specific symptom is a sign of old age and dismiss a patient with a treatable condition on wrong assumptions. Depression and other conditions with non-physical symptoms often go undiagnosed among elders.
Another example is healthcare staff treating elderly patients without full control over their mental abilities with a lack of respect or consideration. A patient hearing a nurse making ageist jokes about him will feel deprived of his dignity. Some doctors show less patience with elders and are less responsive to their health complaints, which makes patients reluctant to communicate further.
Why is ageism so predominant in healthcare? You can read more in this article about ageism. The explanation resides in complex social and cognitive mechanisms through which people relate to each other. Stereotypes are a way for people to make the world more comprehensible by putting people into categories easy to define.
Although efficient in terms of simplifying the world, stereotypes are always harmful to the target person, who sees their entire personality reduced to a generalization. Just like all types of discrimination, age discrimination can have a harmful psychological and social impact on the victim.
How to Protect Victims of Ageism
The main way to combat ageism is to raise awareness about the issue among groups more likely to resort to stereotypes. It is possible that some healthcare professionals don’t identify their prejudices towards the elders as ageism or they are not aware of how their behaviour affects the patients. People in regular contact with an age group must be educated about the dangers of ageism.
Making assumptions about the skills and abilities of an older person based on their age is the same as judging them based on their sex or race. Elders have the human right to be treated as individuals with qualities and desires.
Age discrimination is yet another obstacle that affects people’s feelings of self-worth and dignity, along with their confidence and desire to integrate. Nowhere is this as severe as in healthcare, where age discrimination can have negative life-altering effects for the victims.