Combatting ageism critical to better health care for older people

Combatting ageism critical to better health care for older people

Is being an older person a fair reason for your health concerns to be downplayed or ignored? Sadly, studies from around the world show that older people are experiencing this all too frequently in GP clinics, hospitals and aged care facilities with detrimental impacts on their physical and mental health.

Media Release | 5 October 2023

Dr Rachel Ambagtsheer, Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Torrens University Australia has been the driving force behind a new short course, which addresses pervasive ageism in the health and aged care sectors, being launched this week to coincide with Ageism Awareness Day (7 October).

She said ageism affected older people’s access to preventative and curative interventions.

“Ageism can occur due to individual attitudes and behaviours directed at others or oneself, and is potentially the most damaging form of ageism,” said Dr Ambagtsheer.

“But it also occurs at a structural level, which means it’s embedded in long-standing practices, policies and organisational culture. Frequently, we see this manifest when health service providers discount a patient’s symptoms due to their age. Even the Aged Care Royal Commission identified ageism as a systemic problem in the Australian community that must be addressed.

77-year-old Lyn Whiteway has had first-hand experience with ageism in the health care sector.

“A few years ago, I went to the hospital, in an ambulance, with immense pain in my leg. Despite seeing two doctors, I was sent home. One doctor dismissed it as arthritis,” Lyn shared.

“Fortunately, my husband took me to the GP on the way home - I ended up spending a month in hospital on intravenous antibiotics with sepsis and an epidural abscess. I definitely feel that my age was a major factor in the decision to send me home.”

Professor Kerry London, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research at Torrens University, said the new short course ‘Challenging ageism in health and aged care settings’ demonstrated the important role of research in our communities.

“Dr Ambagtsheer is one of our talented researchers and this short course is an example of the impact our high-quality research is having on our understanding of important issues like ageism.”

Professor Matthew Mundy, Executive Dean of Health and Education at Torrens University, said creating awareness about the issue of ageism in the health and aged care sectors, and society more broadly, was vital.

“An ageist mindset in the health and aged care sectors can have long term negative effects on a person’s health and wellbeing,” said Professor Mundy.

“As an institution that is training the next generation of health care professionals, we have a responsibility to ensure that our students can identify and avoid ageist preconceptions in their practice.”

About Dr Rachel Ambagtsheer

Dr Ambagtsheer is a Research Fellow in Health at Torrens University. She is a part of one of Torrens University’s five University Research Centres - the Centre for Public Health, Equity and Human Flourishing led by Professor Paul Ward.

She has more than 20 years’ experience working in the health field, as a researcher, planner and consultant to all levels of government and the private and not-for-profit sectors. Her current research focuses on the implementation of frailty screening within Australian general practice, the relationship between frailty and mental health and exploring how older people interact with the health system. Dr Ambagtsheer is also the Principal Investigator for an MRFF (Medical Research Future Fund) funded project titled IMPAACT [Improving the Participation of Older Australians in Policy Decision-making on Common Health Conditions].

Enrol in our free Challenging Ageism short course
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