Ageism in Health Care

woman looks annoyed while speaking to doctor

by Ashley Milne-Tyte for NPR

Ageism in healthcare is more common than you might think, and it can harm people

Researchers and geriatricians say that instances of ageism – discrimination based on a person’s age – are surprisingly common in health care settings. It can lead to both overtreatment and undertreatment of older adults, says Dr. Louise Aronson, a geriatrician and professor of geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We all see older people differently. Ageism is a cross-cultural reality,” Aronson says.

Ageism creeps in, even when the intent is benign, says Aronson, who wrote the book, Elderhood. “We all start young, and you think of yourself as young, but older people from the very beginning are other.”

That tendency to see older adults as “other” doesn’t just result in loud greetings, or being called “honey” while having your blood pressure taken, both of which can dent a person’s morale.

Aronson says assumptions that older people are one big, frail, homogenous group can cause more serious issues. Such as when a patient doesn’t receive the care they need because the doctor is seeing a number, rather than an individual.

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