A recent systematic review published in PLOS ONE has explored just how deleterious the impact of ageism can be on an older person’s health. The article entitled “Global reach of ageism on older persons’ health: A systematic review” found that 95.5% of all studies included illustrated that ageism led to significantly worse health outcomes for older adults, and perhaps most strikingly, highlighted just how pervasive and insidious ageism is worldwide.
The effects of ageism can even be seen in many of the social responses to population ageing. While responses to population ageing in general are a positive sign that ageing is being prioritized within political agendas, upon further inspection ageism is still very much at play. The provision of social protection schemes provides an interesting example. While crucial, the provision of social security to older adults sidesteps some of the underlying factors contributing to lower income in older adults. While increased longevity has undoubtedly created a need for social security it can also mask the reality that many older adults while wanting to work, are excluded from the labor market due to ageism. This is also seen in the seemingly arbitrary age-cut offs which dictate access to many services and resources including social security. Age does not discriminate, for example, someone at the age of 60 may have similar needs to someone else at the age of 70, and yet the former may not be able to access much needed services simply because they fall outside of a chronological age-cut off.
Universal healthcare is another interesting example which for many countries enables their citizens to access basic services. As with social security, ageism (prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination) is ever present in this system. Older adults may face limits in the access to certain services based on their age.
Rehabilitation services may not be available to individuals over the age of 80 years. This is deeply concerning as recovering functional ability post fall or accident can significantly impact the overall health outcomes for older adults.
Furthermore, many services such as routine eye exams and hearing tests essential to the wellbeing of older people are not funded within “universal coverage” which often leads to the misperception that they are not important. Equally older people are more likely to be prudent with limited funds and not prepared to invest in prevention for fear that it may result in the need for costly eyeglasses or hearing aids.
In fact, the said study found that ageism was related to poorer health for older adults in 11 different measures, some of which were structural and some individual, including decreased longevity, poorer quality of life and even higher risk for cognitive impairment and physical illness. What is unequivocal is that societal responses to ageing are for the most part just that, responses. The solutions, be it social security or universal healthcare in this case, are based on, and “respond to”, the identified problem which then often ignores the underlying factors contributing / exacerbating the problem, in this case ageism. In order to maximize the success of current and future approaches to population ageing, the underlying issue of ageism must be more adequately explored and addressed.
To learn more about ageism including how to combat ageism connect with IFA expert Prof Liat Ayalon, Ilan University. Also register for the Master Class on Ageism at the IFA’s 15th Global Conference on Ageing and be part of the conversation (and action)!
Liat Ayalon, Ph.D. Professor
I am a clinical psychologist and a Professor at Bar Ilan University.