Explainers

Ageism Concerns In an Ageing Population


Reflect for a moment on how you perceive older people and ageing. Are your thoughts mostly positive or are they negative? Why do you think of older adults and the ageing process the way that you do?

Does this affect the way that you can provide nursing care to older people?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the majority of people are oblivious to the stereotypes they have regarding older adults. Despite this, a large survey of 83,000 people in 57 countries exemplified that 60% of participants felt older people were disrespected (WHO 2016).

This poses questions such as, ‘who is disrespecting older people?’, ‘how much of the population is considered as being negative towards older adults?’, and ‘does this ageist population include nurses?’.

This negativity towards older adults is particularly concerning, considering that older people discontent with ageing may be at risk of depression, social isolation, and living 7.5 years less than optimistic older people and not rehabilitating as well from disability as positive older adults (WHO 2016).

WHO (2016) reminds us that by 2050 there will be 2 billion people in the world over the age of 60. To emphasise the significance of this, note that 15% of Australians were aged 65 or over in 2014, in contrast to just 8% in 1964 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016b). Clearly, a significant portion of the population are ‘aged’ and thus at risk of decreased quality of life from negative attitudes towards ageing.

In order to create healthy ageing, ageism needs to be eliminated (WHO 2016). This may lead you to question how ageism can be eliminated, especially when it is apparently so widespread. Perhaps you may be wondering what is classified as ‘ageism’, and what is meant by an ‘ageing population’?

What is Ageism?

According to WHO (2016), ageism can involve: media portrayal of older people as frail and needy; and, policies demanding retirement of employees that reach a specific age. This is due to the lack of consideration of individuals’ abilities that create unfair assumptions based on generalisations. You can probably think of several examples of ageist depictions of older people in movies you have watched.

This is disappointing when noting that Australians are reportedly living longer and healthier lives than past generations (AIHW 2016a).

Most older Australians view their health as being in good condition, despite 53% living with a disability (AIHW 2016a). Only 1 in 5 older Australians are reported as having a severe enough disability to sometimes require help with one or more activities comprised of self-care, mobility or communication (AIHW 2016a).

Furthermore, the Indigenous Australian life expectancy gap is narrowing and Australians can expect to experience more years free of disability (AIHW 2016b). Most older Australians report healthy living, with 93% being current non-smokers, over half being fully vaccinated and more Australians were working in paid jobs compared to that of the year 1990 (AIHW 2016b).

As evident, there is plenty for Australians to be proud of in terms of current ageing outcomes. The increasing health, quality of life, and longevity creates hope and optimism for future generations regarding ageing in Australia. Perhaps the awareness of improved ageing outcomes for Australians may lead to diminished ageist and negative attitudes towards older people.

As nurses, we are in a position to view improved health outcomes and ageing over our careers. Nurses need to value and respect all people regardless of their age. As a nurse, you are in a position to promote healthy ageing, build confidence and competence, and thereby conceivably help people to become more optimistic towards ageing processes. If older Australians think more positively of ageing, perhaps other members of society will too, and ageism will decline.

What will you do to prevent ageism and promote healthy ageing?

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