Ageist attitudes in health and social care revealed

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The Centre for Ageing Better calls for “fundamental cultural shift” to overturn ageist attitudes.

A new review of the evidence highlights ageism in health and social care settings, with ageing seen as an inevitable process of decline. These attitudes can affect patient care, leading to over- or under-medication for pain management.

The UK’s attitudes to ageing are overwhelmingly negative, according to a new report by the Centre for Ageing Better, with older people subject to a litany of damaging stereotypes.  

The review found that in health and social care settings, attitudes to ageing focus on death and physical decline, and ageing is seen as a process of increasingly bad health. This can lead to over- or under-medication for pain, as well as a lower likelihood of being screened for sexually transmitted diseases or substance abuse. Previous research has found that treatment rates drop disproportionately for people over 70 in areas such as surgery, chemotherapy and talking therapies.

The review also found evidence of ageist attitudes in the workplace and in the media, with older workers seen as less competent, older people portrayed as ‘villains’ or the ageing population seen as a ‘demographic time bomb.’

 The Centre for Ageing Better, which published the report, is calling for a “fundamental culture shift” to overturn what it calls an “ingrained culture” of “pity and dislike” towards older people.  

 Anna Dixon, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:   

 “Ageism, like any other form of prejudice, has a profound effect on our self-esteem, our wellbeing and the way we experience day-to-day life. The responses to the COVID-19 crisis have thrown up serious questions about the way we think and talk about older people, and highlighted what an impact those attitudes can have.

“Our new research shows that in spite of the progress we’ve made towards challenging discrimination in Britain, we still have an ingrained culture of pity, dislike and disassociation towards older people.

 “Most of us are living many years longer than previous generations and this is a gift to be celebrated. But the outdated and harmful attitudes laid bare in this research are preventing too many people from making the most of those extra years. 

 “Ageism is deeply damaging, and yet all too often it isn’t taken as seriously as other forms of prejudice or discrimination. Britain is long overdue a fundamental culture shift to overturn these attitudes, and the media needs to reflect the diverse experiences of people in later life.”  

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