Seniors, or people 65 years and older, are one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19 and its worst symptoms. While many family members and medical professionals are concerned for seniors during the pandemic, the event has also brought out the issue of ageism.
Ageism is not new to COVID-19, the idea of stereotyping based on age is one that preceded this pandemic. However, COVID-19 and its effects on older adults has sparked even more issues of ageism. From how the healthcare industry treats the elderly to how we speak to our loved ones, ageism has grown during the pandemic.
Read on to learn more about how we can prevent ageism during COVID-19.
The Problem of Ageism
Ageism is discrimination based on age, and it frequently happens to senior citizens. The negative ways we often unintentionally treat the elderly are tied into our “senior profiling” and stereotypes that older people have sedentary lifestyles, compromised cognitive ability, and diminished capabilities.
Older people may not get the healthcare they need because their issues are misdiagnosed or brushed off due to old age. Ageism is actually a huge problem that can lead to seniors receiving a diminished level of care. In fact, one in five Americans over the age of 50 experience discrimination in healthcare settings.
While ageism in healthcare is a serious issue that can impact the outcome for many seniors, how we treat and communicate with the seniors in our own lives is often a problem as well. Many younger caregivers assume that their senior family members need extra care and are too fragile to take care of themselves or make their own decisions. Letting stereotypes guide our communication styles leads to patronization and worse outcomes.
Reducing Ageism in Healthcare
The seriousness of COVID and its impact on seniors have only heightened ageism in the United States. First and foremost, we must take steps to prevent ageism regarding healthcare. Some of the best ways to keep ageism at bay in these settings are by:
- Learning more about individual seniors. Find out their life story and take the time to understand them personally.
- Do not make assumptions about functional ability. Not every senior has the same ailments or requires the same treatment.
- Speak with both the caregiver and senior. If you are the caregiver, be sure to include the senior in the conversation with doctors and ensure they are spoken to directly and not just spoken around.
- Include anti-ageism training and orientation in healthcare.
Prevent Ageism at Home
Looking after your senior family members is very hard and stressful. It is easy to get frustrated and fall back on ageism. Here are some ways to prevent ageism when communicating with your senior:
- Instead of just telling them not to do something, suggest different options.
- Support your senior with social interaction in a safe way that adheres so social distancing recommendations.
- Introduce technology. Seniors are not incapable of learning to use technology. Introduce some technology solutions and be patient.
- Remember diversity and individuality. As with any cohort, the elderly are a very diverse group with different interests, capabilities, and personalities.
While negative stereotypes about older adults are culturally ingrained, we can all work together to fight them. With COVID-19 posing a major threat to seniors, now is the time to do everything we can to prevent ageism and ensure seniors are getting the care and communication they need.