Ageism exists everywhere. Healthcare is not exempt. But progressive researchers are proving the power of self-perception to improve health outcomes and change ageist attitudes. A study conducted by Marie Bernard, MD noted that “healthcare professionals tend to believe [wrongly] that most older individuals are frail and dependent, and that those who are not are atypical.”
Richard Currey writes in an Aging Well Magazine article…
I work in a busy urban emergency department (ED). More than half of our patients are aged 60 or older. Many arrive because of mishaps or illnesses that may bring anybody of any age to an ED, and we provide the same quality care for them as we do for younger patients.
At the same time, I’m aware of an age-based discrimination directed toward older patients. At 58, perhaps I’m more sensitive about this than my younger colleagues are, but I can be guilty of ageism, too, if only by complicity. EDs are hectic, and those who work in them are quick to mentally pigeonhole those we treat there. Older patients are typically medically complex absorbers of time and resources that can lead ED practitioners to refer to their cases as “train wrecks.”
There are other similar phrases routinely used for older patients—”Disaster waiting to happen.” “Nightmare on a stretcher.” “Dotty old guy in bed three.” “Gramps down the hall.” “Sweet old lady.”
Understand, these expressions are rarely voiced with overt hostility. Some are spoken gently or intended to be humorous. There are those who argue they’re excusable in the frenetic world of an ED. But these discriminatory labels, no matter how they’re ultimately intended or directed, all tend to demean or devalue. They’re all emblematic of ageism, a complex phenomenon carrying a continuing burden of social and political prejudice that has real costs to the health, well-being, and longevity of thousands of older adults.