Staff and volunteers in the BAB partnership recently came together to look at a piece of research and discuss what impact it has for their roles and the wider sector. The purpose of these meetings is to help ensure that those who work or volunteer with older people in the city are working in ways informed by the latest research and evidence.
We looked at this research which outlines how ageist stereotypes can negatively affect the health of older people, with a focus on older women in particular. The article was called ‘Ageism can be Hazardous to Women’s Health: Ageism, Sexism and Stereotypes of Older Women in the Healthcare System’ (Chrisler and colleagues, 2016).
If you would like to come along to a similar session in the future, let us know by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, you would be very welcome. It is an informal group which meets approximately every 2 months and is focused on supporting your evidence based practice. We summarise the research at every meeting so it is not necessary to have read it all beforehand.
Here are some of the key insights from the meeting:
1. Ageism can influence the quality of services received by older people. The article looked specifically at healthcare, although the group felt similar findings would also occur in other situations. Ageist stereotypes can lead to some professionals making decisions for older people without their involvement, or to not explaining things as fully as they would to younger people. Rather than automatically being spoken to as an equal, the experience of some older people is of needing to ‘prove’ themselves worthy of this.
2. When this occurs, there may be a disparity in who feels able to challenge these professionals and who does not. The group felt that those who are less articulate, have lower confidence, are less assertive, are not used to challenging authority or do not have English as a first language may find it harder to have their voices heard and therefore may have less input into decisions that affect them.
3. It is important for those who work or volunteer with older people to challenge ageism in their work. Ageism often arises in everyday conversation in phrases such as “you look young for your age”, “having a senior moment” or referring to someone as “dear”. It is also visible in images which show older people as frail, unglamorous, unhappy or passive. This type of ageism can often go under the radar, yet as workers and volunteers we can challenge this on a one-to-one level.
4. Another way staff and volunteers can challenge ageism is to empower older people to have their voices heard and to understand that their views and lived experience are valuable. This approach is built into all BAB-funded projects, and can be seen in steering groups, forums, actions groups, asset-based practice and other forms of feedback and input.
5. This article focused specifically on ageism within healthcare. Stereotypes of older people mean healthcare staff are far less likely to ask them about behaviours such as sexual activity and drug use. By not considering this aspect of behaviour among older people, it can lead to some health conditions being overlooked or misdiagnosed.
6. The phrase “just old age” can be damaging and disempowering. It suggests that older people should simply ‘put up with’ certain conditions (e.g. hearing loss, depression), rather than finding ways to treat or manage these in similar ways to other age groups.
7. It is important for practitioners (in whatever field they work) to reflect on their behaviour, their decisions and the implicit assumptions behind these. Would they make that same decision if it were someone younger? Is there a legitimate reason for this, or is it based on an assumption about older age? To do this, it needs to be included in their training, but importantly they also need enough time to reflect. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many professions, including healthcare, which faces understaffing and time pressures.
8. A powerful view in society at the moment is the belief that looking older is something negative to avoid, while a younger appearance is something to aim for. This can be seen in the number of ‘anti-ageing’ beauty products available and the prevalence of cosmetic surgery among celebrities. This is the case particularly for older women, as older male icons are more likely to be categorised as ‘silver foxes’ or ‘distinguished’. However there is beginning to be a movement in Hollywood embracing older age, see for example the Acting Your Age campaign.
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