By: Dr. Beth Templin
In my last post, I discussed how ageism is prevalent in our day to day lives. It is ingrained in our daily thoughts, decisions and actions. We often times don’t even realize we are having ageist thoughts, but they are always there. I even find myself having some of those negative thoughts about aging from time to time, but I’m able to recognize them
and then I can choose to change my thought process.
Ageism is also just as prevalent in the healthcare system as it is in mainstream society. Even as a healthcare provider, it’s hard to stop and check your belief system at the door. It’s hard not to let those preconceived notions of aging creep into your thoughts and influence your decisions and actions. Especially when ageism more acceptable and is not challenged as much as other stereotypes like sexism and racism.
Ageism is so prevalent, that according to the World Health Organization (WHO) ageism even leads to negative health outcomes, including a shorter lifespan. People who have negative beliefs about aging and a poor outlook on the aging process tend to live 7.5 years less than those who have a positive outlook on aging.
For some reason, I think we expect healthcare workers to be above those stereotypes, to treat each individual as a person and to choose the best course of care based on the whole picture. We expect physicians, nurses and others in the healthcare field to be able to see beyond age, sex, gender, to be able to provide care without prejudices. But that’s not always the case.
Ageism directly impacts the decisions you make as a healthcare provider. If a healthcare provider doesn’t expect a person to make a fully recovery due to their age, they may alter or limit the options offered to that individual. For example, if they don’t anticipate the person can return to walking or living independently on their own again, it changes the expectation for the outcome. As a result, it changes the recommendations given and the end result.
A perfect example of this is a former patient of ours at HouseFit. Dottie wanted to be able to walk again without a walker after falling out of bed and breaking her hip. Her first Physical Therapy team saw her age and came to the conclusion that she should consider herself lucky she survived the injury and surgery and that she should be happy she was able to walk again without a walker. They thought she should not have any high aspirations, like walking without a walker because she was 94 years old.
I saw something completely different. Before her injury Dottie was running in 5K races 2-3 times a month. She didn’t fall because of poor balance; she fell out of bed. It was an accident. I believed that because of her prior fitness level she could absolutely reach her goal of being able to walk without the assistance of a walker again. And in just a few short weeks, we helped her do just that.
Other examples of ageism in healthcare is when a provider completely ignores or brushes off complaints of symptoms like dizziness because they assume it’s a “normal” part of aging and nothing can be done to improve it. Instead of sending you to a specialist to help determine the underlying cause they just prescribe prescription medications to mask the symptoms and the patient is told to live with it.
Or complaints of pain are ignored and contributed to “old age”. Instead of recommending physical therapy to help identify exercises to improve the joint alignment and strengthen the muscles to better support the joints, you are just given pain medications, painful injections or the recommendation to have invasive surgery.
Maybe your complaints are of memory loss, which are assumed to be caused by a disease like Alzheimer’s. Even though there are many things that can contribute to temporary or reversible types of memory loss, not everyone will get a thorough examination to rule them out before going with the default diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Unfortunately, it happens all too often. So shat can you do? Two things come to mind.
The first is to find someone who specializes in working with the aging population. There are Geriatric Physicians, Geriatric Psychiatrists and people like me, Geriatric Physical Therapists. We have specialized training in the aging process and are better able to help you determine if what you are experiencing is considered to be part of the “normal” aging process, or something more serious that needs intervention and treatment. We tend to look at the person holistically and come up with a plan to help you reach your goals. We don’t just look at your numeric age.
Second you have to take matters into you own hands and become an advocate for yourself. You need to be able to ask questions to make sure you are getting the best options for your care. I’ll discuss this more in my next post.
Never Miss An Update From Dr. Beth Online!
Click on the button to subscribe to our mailing list.
Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ understand the changes of aging and how to live a healthy active lifestyle, so they don’t start to miss out on the good things in life.