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Ageism in Healthcare and Beyond

Ageism involves the beliefs about the abilities and make-up of older adults based on stereotypes and prejudices based solely on age.1 Age can be used to categorize and put someone at a disadvantage in such a way to separate generations.  Separating groups of people based on a single characteristic is often harmful.

Age discrimination is when an older person is treated differently because of these negative views of seniors.1 An ageist attitude views older persons as weak, frail, helpless, difficult, or unpleasant.  These views can lead an older person to feel devalued in the community and more isolated if the community accepts and adheres to ageist beliefs. 

One in five older adults report experiencing discrimination in a healthcare setting, making it difficult to obtain appropriate care.1 Medical providers may assume cognitive issues if the older person speaks slower or brings in a family member to appointments.  There may not be any cognitive issues at all, but medical staff may direct questions to the family member or discount concerns relayed by the older adult.  Failure to include persons in their treatment plan can severely affect the overall health issues.

An age-friendly movement is in effect to improve the involvement of older adults in their healthcare, as well as in providing input on preferences.  This movement focuses on the strengths that the older adult brings to his or her situation.  Age-friendly initiatives empower older adults and reinforce the value of the older adult’s opinions, capabilities, and overall value in society.1 Function, ability, and health do not have rule books or limitations as genetics, lifestyle, environment, attitude, and support system collectively influence wellness.

To combat ageism overall, educating the community and raising awareness of the misperceptions of aging and stereotypes is needed.  Challenging negative attitudes toward aging is paramount as older adults are living fulfilling, successful, and purpose-driven lives.  Older adults are showing success in business, accomplishing great feats in athletics and sports, and learning new activities well beyond retirement.2 Advancing in age does not mean automatically losing abilities and independence.  Believing that growing older brings new opportunities, rather than poorer health and lessened abilities, is the cornerstone of staying young.  The mindset is such a strong component in the aging process.  Changing the ideas of aging in society is needed, but it must start at a personal level. 

The Egyptian Area Agency on Aging, along with our senior centers, often work with persons who have complex medical conditions and needs that require outside support.  However, we also have programs to engage older adults who are active and want to socialize and be of help to the community through volunteer work or community projects.  Feel free to contact our office if you fall into either category, as there is not one way to age and we may find ourselves in different circumstances throughout life.

1”Fighting Ageism in Healthcare,”, March 8th, 2022.

2Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Ageism and Age Discrimination Fact Sheet.”