fight ageismHave you ever forgotten something, and excused yourself as having a “senior moment?”   If we examine the implications of this statement we can identify that we believe older adults have memory problems or are senile.

Ageism is defined as the intentional and/or subconscious discrimination against elderly people that has both direct and indirect detrimental effects on the older population,

Age stereotypes are often internalized at a young age.  By the age of four, children are familiar with age stereotypes, which are reinforced over their lifetimes.

Our Western society values youth and beauty.  The media’s portrayal of older adults is portrayed as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding.  Television advertisements depict bladder incontinence, dentures, and inability to get up after a fall when addressing the older adult, whereas the young are vacationing, dancing, and enjoying life.   The value that the media and society place on youth may be reflected in the number of cosmetic surgeries among older adults.

The relationship between ageism and civil rights is long standing and is reflected in Butler’s association between ageism and other forms of social injustice. “Ageism,” he says, “can be seen as a process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this for skin color and gender. Ageism allows the younger generations to see older people as different from themselves, thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings” (Butler, 1975).

The truth is that the majority of seniors are self-sufficient, middle-class consumers with more assets than most young people and with more time and talent to offer society.

A survey by Duke University (2001) of 84 people ages 60 and older, showed that nearly 80 percent of respondents reported experiencing ageism, such as other people assuming they had memory or physical impairments due to their age. The survey revealed that the most frequent type of ageism, reported by 58 percent of respondents, was being told a joke that pokes fun at older people. Thirty-one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age.  Older patients are often viewed by health professionals as set in their ways and unable to change their behavior.

If older adults are treated as dependent, incompetent, helpless then they may begin to take on that role, because it is an expectation.

Healthcare practitioners must examine their beliefs and educate themselves so that they do not have biases that can compromise clinical objectivity and patient care. Examples of provider beliefs are: seeing the patient as chronically ill and frail, decreasing the opportunity to ambulate or engage in self-care; fear of narcotic dependence, which gets in the way of pain management; under treatment of depression, believing all elders are depressed; promotion of bed rest, with subsequent loss of function. Currently, hospitals perpetuate dependency which erodes the patient’s self-esteem, identity, and individuality.

old people


  1. Butler, R. N. (1975). Why Survive?: Being Old in America. New York: Harper and Row.
  2. Cornwell. J.  (2012). The Care of Frail Older People with Complex Needs: Time for a Revolution. King’s Fund, London.
  3. Perry. D. (2012). “Entrenched Ageism in healthcare Isolates, Ignores and Imperils Elders.” Aging Today: March/April.
  4. Kydd.  A.,  Wild D. (2013). Attitudes towards caring for older people: Literature review and methodology.
  5. Palmore. E. (2001).  The Ageism Survey: First findings. The Gerontologist. Vol 41. No 1.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Bronia Michejenko, RN, MSN, GNP, BC.

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