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Ageism in Health Care

Ageism, or age discrimination is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups because of their age. It is a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age-based prejudice, discrimination, and subordination.’

As we mature, develop new ideas, thought patterns and understanding of the world around us, it becomes easy to shun those that do not fit into the neat ‘mental habitat’ that we create for ourselves. It is even easier when the ones that we are discriminating against seem to be slower physically and mentally, more timid, more experienced in ‘useless’ things of the past and less knowledgeable about things of today.

Ageism exists in all facets of society including the Health Care Industry. This is sort of ironic considering that the elderly need the health care industry more than ever as they go through age related changes, diseases and disorders. It is important that we are aware of ageism so that we can make the necessary changes to deter it.

The elderly can experience ageism from:

1. Family doctors: the number of geriatric focused doctors today is inadequate to fulfil the need of our aging population. Family doctors often believe that care for the elderly can be time-consuming due to their plethora of aliments and therefore choose not to take them on as clients. This leaves several elderly individuals who need both minimal and constant health care, neglected and in a state of possible deterioration.

2. Research: research done on medications for the elderly are often completed on younger Caucasian males. These males undoubtedly perform better under the research conditions which lead to the approval of ‘certain drugs. These drugs are then issued to older women and men of various ethnicities without further consideration.

3. Procedures/Treatment: due to the risk and time commitment of some procedures for the elderly and aging populations, some medical professionals choose not to offer some needed treatments. Instead they choose the option that will lessen the symptoms in order to move on to the next person/client.

4. Medical errors: due to the nonchalant treatment that some older adults receive they are often prescribed the wrong medications or medications that would cause a negative reaction in their current prescription cascade. Also, many older adults are not being monitored while they are taking medication. Many of them take the wrong dosage and this can lead to further illness and even death.

5. Heart Disease: some older adults may be denied heart care because of perceived poor recovery. Some doctors do not take the time to evaluate clients on a personal basis.

6. Joint Replacement: Many older adults who are able to have joint replacement surgery need adequate rehab and home care after surgery. Some may be frailer and left with less activity due to the perception from family members. This leads to poor recovery, stiffening of the joint and undue pain.

Discrimination of any group should be frowned upon. Although we are thwarted with images of the frail elderly by the media, we need to understand that in most cases this is the minority. Many older people are able to show more vitality and gumption. And are assets to their family life and society. Efforts should be made to accommodate, care for, and learn from the wisdom of those with the earned grey crown instead of making them feel inadequate, useless and unimportant.

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