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Ageism in Health Care

In the United States, Baby Boomers now represent 50% of the population, and are living and working longer than any generation before them. Boomers don’t want to retire, they want to keep working and contributing to society.


But unfortunately, society doesn’t always seem to appreciate the Boomers. A growing lack of respect for people over the age of 50, also known as ageism, has become increasingly pervasive throughout many areas of our lives- including healthcare.


Growing Elderly Population:


According to the US Census Bureau, by 2030, 1 out of every 5 Americans will be age 65 or older. For the first time in US history, older people will outnumber children. By 2035, there will be 76 million people under the age of 18 and 78 million over the age of 65.


This phenomenon can be explained by several different factors:

  • The increased life span of the average American

  • Americans are having fewer babies

  • Medical advances have allowed people to live longer

But this growing elderly population will cause an increased demand for health care, which will potentially exacerbate ageist attitudes.


Ageism 101:


The term ageism refers to two concepts:

  • A socially constructed way of thinking about older people based on negative stereotypes and attitudes

  • A tendency to structure society based on the assumption that most people are young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the needs of older people

Ageism is often not taken as seriously as other forms of discrimination. However, it can have the same destructive economic, social, and psychological impact as sexism, classism, and ableism. It is estimated that over 6 million cases of depression globally can be attributed to ageism. Ageism exacerbates and intersects with other forms of bias and disadvantage such as those related to sex, race, and disability- leading to a detrimental effect on people’s well-being and health.


There are three dimensions of ageism:

  • Cognitive → stereotypes

  • Emotional → prejudice

  • Behavioral → discrimination

Ageism can occur implicitly or explicitly throughout three levels:

  • Micro → interpersonally, among individual people

  • Meso → within social networks

  • Macro → through cultural traditions or institutional policies

Unfortunately, ageism exists throughout society but is especially pervasive in health care.


Ageism in health care:


Within health care, ageism is often explicit. The needs of younger patients are put above those of older ones simply because they have more years left to live. If you’re above the age of 50, it’s very likely you’ve experienced at least some facet of ageism at the doctor’s office.


Some examples of ageism within health care include:

  • Physicians dismiss a treatable pathology as a feature of old age

  • Providers treat the natural effects of aging as a disease

  • Staff members share and laugh at ageist jokes

  • Staff members have implicit ageist thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward elderly patients without conscious awareness

  • Providers apply stereotypes to older patients

  • Elderly adults with multiple chronic illnesses are excluded from clinical trials to keep them focused on the general population.

With elderly patients, doctors may be:

  • Less patient

  • Less engaged

  • Less egalitarian

  • Less responsive to issues raised by the patient

  • More interested in provider-raised topics

  • More likely to use ‘elderspeak’ → slow pace, exaggerated intonation, elevated pitch and volume, more simple vocabulary

  • More likely to assume to the patient is cognitively impaired and not explain the details of an illness

Impact of ageism in health care:


Ageism is a problem that cannot be ignored, especially within healthcare. Ageism within health care impacts the quality of care and patient-provider communication. Many conditions are undiagnosed and undertreated, such as:

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Pain

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Anxiety

Moreover, according to research, ageism leads to worse outcomes in a variety of mental health conditions, like depression, and in a number of physical health conditions, including a shortened life span. Ageism has also been found to prevent older adults from getting the medical care they so desperately need.


Why JCH is different:


As a non-traditional medical practice, The Johnson Center for Health is able to dedicate the time and energy to make sure you receive the care you deserve. This is coupled with Dr. Johnson’s long history in the medical field- having worked with patients from every background of every age, shape, and size. Moreover, at JCH, you will receive over an hour per appointment of Dr. Johnson’s unwavering attention- more than triple that of the average healthcare provider.


Dr. Johnson does not rely on ageist stereotypes or assumptions to make a diagnosis on a patient of any age. Further, with our frequent use of genomic testing, the Johnson Center will make every effort to truly understand and provide you with the proper care you deserve.


For more information about optimal health at The Johnson Center, click here to contact us. Or, email our office at thejohnsoncenter@gmail.com or call 276-235-3205, to set up your complimentary 15-minute discovery call with Dr. Johnson!


The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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