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Harmful effects of ageism on older persons' health found in 45 countries

January 19, 2020

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Harmful effects of ageism on older persons' health found in 45 countries

We boomers and Xgeners are getting on, and as we do the fixation with youth—in employment and many other areas—that we see all around us becomes more of a problem. We become excluded and seen as a liability rather than the irreplaceable asset that we are.

In the largest examination to date of the health consequences of ageism, or age-based bias, researchers have found evidence that it harms the health of older people in 45 countries and across five continents. The study included over seven million participants.

The lead researcher was asked by the World Health Organization to lead the analysis as part of its newly launched Global Campaign to Combat Ageism, which is supported by 194 countries. The analysis was based on a systematic review of 422 studies around the world. There was evidence of the adverse effects of ageism on older persons in 96% of the studies.

What the researchers say: “The injurious reach of ageism that our team documented demonstrates the need for initiatives to overcome ageism,” said the study’s senior author. The study appears in the current PLOS ONE journal.

The study is the first systematic review of ageism that simultaneously considered structural-level ageism, such as denied access to health care, and individual-level ageism, such as the power of stress-inducing negative age stereotypes assimilated from culture to affect the health of older persons.

The team found evidence that ageism led to worse outcomes in several mental health conditions, including depression, and a number of physical health conditions, including shorter life expectancy. Ten studies showed that when older persons assimilate negative age stereotypes from the culture, they have a shorter life expectancy. This survival finding was found by the studies of others in many countries, including Australia, Germany, and China.

In the current study, the team found that ageism adversely affected whether or not older patients received medical treatment and, if they received the treatment, the duration, frequency, and appropriateness of the treatment provided. Evidence of denied access to health care treatments was found in 85% of all relevant studies. In 92% of the international studies of health care students and professionals, there were indications of ageism in medical decisions, and this trend has increased over time, said the researchers.

This systematic review also found ageism affected older persons regardless of their age, sex, and racial/ethnic membership.

“Our research highlights the importance of recognizing the influence of ageism on health,” said first author. “Policies to improve older persons’ health must take ageism into account.”

So, what? The sidelining of older people is new in the history of our species. Hunter-gatherer h. sapiens, the Neanderthals and probably h. erectus all went to great pains to care for their elders and gave reverence to them.

Some researchers have said recently that the increasing ageism in our society foreshadows the probable collapse of our civilization—a concept discussed, for example in Ken Robert’s book ‘Key Concepts in Sociology’ and elsewhere.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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