Discrimination on the basis of age is termed as ageism. Ageism has been prevalent for a long time in the western society as well as other societies; elderly are commonly being perceived as people of low value (Bowling, 2007). They are also considered to be a significant economic burden to the society; and is often perceived that any medical treatment would not bring much benefits to the elderly individual; and will be of a shorter duration; and that they have already had a ‘fair innings’ in life (Bowling, 2007).
Ageism is one reason why the elderly adults perceive themselves as stressed. Such discrimination due to their age can be by their own family members and friends or by the society. It is threatening to their overall health, quality of life, and wellbeing (Scott, 2011). In medical literature, there is evidence that being a victim of ageism, individuals have been identified with elevated cardiovascular response to stress. They are also at an increased risk of mortality. They seem to have a decreased will to live. It also has an impact on various psychosocial domains such as social involvement (Scott, 2011).
That an individual is going through ageism is evident when a plethora of societal signals are encountered. Initially, the individual may be in a state of denial, but as the societal signals become prevalent, it is likely to affect the overall health. Such cues may exist at an institutional level too, when elderly are denied employment or even appropriate medical care (Levy, 2009).
Objectively, the onset of old age occurs when an individual reaches an age that is formally defined by dates, such as “Reserved for seniors” or “Senior” admission to movie theaters. Such demarcations may contribute to subjective onset of old age (Levy, 2009). According to Rothermund’s five year longitudinal study, ‘typical old person’ attributes tend to become incorporated in an elderly individual’s self- views (Rothermund, 2005).
An old study has documented the prevalence of ageism in television shows. Elderly normally tend to spend most of their time watching television programmes this is where they are more exposed to the negative portrayals of the elderly. Therefore, they tend to develop a negative view on aging (Nelson, 2005).
The discrimination is not just limited to family, friends or society, but healthcare professionals like doctors have also discriminated patients by age. One aim of ‘The National Service Framework for Older People’ is to ensure that the elderly are not discriminated because of their age when a health care is essential. However, in Europe and US, there is a consistent body of evidence that the elderly are less likely to receive a range of indicated medical treatments as compared to younger people (The Stationary Office, 2001).
In many studies, it was seen that prescriptions for cardiac interventions have varied based on patient’s age, ethnicity, sex, and socioeconomic status. A study by Arber et al reported general practitioners (GPs) more likely to ask about poor habits like smoking and alcohol consumption to 55 year olds than those who are 75 year old (Arber, 2004). In Bowling et al study, it was seen that, overall, GPs pay less attention to older patients when it comes to offer an angiography, lipid test, lipid-lowering drug therapy, exercise tolerance testing, or reference to a specialist. Prescriptions are changed frequently and follow ups are limited. However, in follow up interviews, the lesser treatments to the aged were viewed as treatments leading to greater risk of complications from treatment. Importantly, the interesting thing in the study about medical care decisions in ageists was that the treating doctors were prepared to justify their decisions (Bowling, 2007).
Thus, it is increasingly important that the family, friends, society, health professionals, and policy makers become sensitive to age prejudice, which would help enhance the aged’s quality of life; and it is for the society to understand how institutionalized ageism can be handled to promote respect to the elderly.
Bowling A. (2007) Honour your father and mother: ageism in medicine. Brit J Gen Prac, p347 – 348. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2047005/pdf/bjpg57-347.pdf
Scott S, Jackson BR, Bergeman CS. (2011) What contributes to perceived stress in later life? A recursive partitioning approach. Psychol Aging, 26 (4) 83- 843.
Levy B. (2009) Stereotype Embodiment. A psychosocial approach to aging. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 18 (6), 332 – 336. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2927354/; Accessed: 10th April 2013
Rothermund K. Effects of age stereotypes on self-views and adaptation. In: Greve W, Rothermund K, Wentura D, editors. The adaptive self. Cambrige, MA: Hogrefe & Huber; 2005.
Nelson TD. (2005) Ageism: Prejudice Against Our Feared Future Self. J Social issues, 61, 207-221. Retreived from: http://academics.tctc.edu/adn_nursing/Nelson-Ageism-Prejudice%20Against%20Our%20Feared%20Future%20Self.pdf; Accessed: 10th April 2013
Arber S, McKinlay J, Adams A, et al. Influence of patient characteristics on doctors' questioning and lifestyle advice for coronary heart disease: a UK/US video experiment. Br J Gen Pract. 2004;54(506):673–678.