Ageism

Ageism consists of the stereotyping of older persons and attributing characteristics to them that are not based on evidence  gives legitimacy to discriminatory behaviour towards the older person .

ageism (like racism and sexism) – is based on the belief that one age category is inferior to other age categories and that unequal treatment is justified.
ageism reflects a categorisation of the older person as senile, rigid in thought and creates a revulsion and distaste for them by younger people
the stereotype of the frail, ill, dependent older person who is a burden to their family  reality is very different for most older people
reported fears of the adverse economic consequences that the aging population will have on younger generations tends to fuel ageist stereotypes.
the very use of the term “old people” has negative ageist connotations
ageism is further fuelled by the use of language that conjures negative images (eg ‘battle axe’, ‘fossil’, ‘old duffer’, ‘over the hill’, ‘old fogey’)

Ageism can be defined as any attitude, action, or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely on the basis of age . Ageism fosters the development of wrong assumptions about the abilities, intelligence and physical skills of older persons. The conventional perception of older persons tends to be negative, often depicting them as disabled, frail and dependent. This lead to the perception of economic and social marginalisation. Conscious efforts are needed to educate against the negative generalisations of the stereotypes.

Negative perceptions can affect a health professional’s willingness to work with older persons. Eg:
Perceived lack of prestige or status from working in the discipline of geriatrics
Perceived poor remuneration and lack of opportunity for advancement working in geriatrics

Reality :
research has dispelled as myth most of what ageism is based on
Only 5% of women over the age of 70 are in residential care at any one point in time
In the 85-89 year age group, only 12% self reported poor health

Ageism is a barrier to quality health care. Buckwalter et al (1993) showed that ageism prevented elderly people from getting adequate mental health care. Physical therapists who were given hypothetical patient descriptions were shown to be less aggressive in their gaol setting for older patient’s . In podiatric clinical practice, an example is the use of softer orthoses automatically when more rigid orthoses are more appropriate – decision is based on chronological age and not other criteria as to which is most appropriate type of foot orthoses device.

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