How health care professionals can combat the growing issues surrounding ageism in care delivery settings.

Regis College Online

At, we are deeply committed to addressing the severe concern of ageism in health care. Ageism, as defined by Dr. Robert N. Butler, refers to the systematic stereotyping and discrimination against individuals based on age. Unfortunately, the healthcare system is not immune to instances of explicit or implicit ageism, which have detrimental effects on the health and well-being of older patients. In this article, we will examine the projected growth of older patients and how it increases concerns over ageist attitudes in care delivery. We will also explore how professionals can combat ageism’s presence in health care using Google’s E-A-T guidelines.

The Prevalence of Ageism in Health Care

The United States is experiencing significant growth in its elderly population, and this demographic shift poses challenges for the healthcare industry in dealing with ageism. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2060, nearly 1 in 4 Americans will be 65 years and older, with the number of individuals aged 95 and above tripling and half a million centenarians added. Comparing these numbers to 2016, where 49.2 million children under 18 and 73.6 million adults aged 65 and older, the predicted growth to 80.1 million children and 94.7 million older adults, respectively, is significant. As the elderly population expands, the demand for healthcare services will inevitably increase, potentially exacerbating ageist attitudes within the system.

Understanding Ageism: Its Forms and Manifestations

Ageism can take various forms, such as cognitive stereotypes, emotional prejudice, and behavioral discrimination. It can be implicit or explicit, manifesting among individuals, within social networks, or through institutional policies and cultural traditions. In healthcare settings, ageism often becomes evident in care-related situations. Physicians may dismiss treatable pathologies as normal features of old age, failing to provide necessary interventions. Staff members may unknowingly engage in ageist behaviors or share ageist jokes, perpetuating negative stereotypes. Moreover, the natural effects of aging are sometimes mistakenly treated as diseases, leading to improper management.

Exploring the Causes of Ageism

Several theories attempt to explain the origins of ageism. The terror management theory proposes that negative biases against older individuals protect younger individuals from contemplating the negative aspects of aging. The functional approach theory suggests that stereotypes serve cognitive and social functions by helping individuals categorize and identify with their social in-groups. Furthermore, factors such as misconceptions about treatment hierarchy, poor training, and being surrounded by elderly patients with severe health conditions contribute to ageist attitudes among healthcare professionals.

The Far-Reaching Effects of Ageism

Ageism in health care has profound implications for senior care, patient-provider communication, and the behavior of elderly individuals themselves. Undiagnosed and undertreated conditions, including pain, fatigue, and depression, can significantly affect the quality of life for older patients. On the other hand, overtreatment based solely on age without proper assessments can lead to unnecessary medical interventions, costing the healthcare system billions of dollars annually. Furthermore, communication between physicians and elderly patients may be compromised, as doctors may exhibit impatience, lack of engagement, and assumptions of cognitive impairment. The sensory deficits, cognitive impairments, and functional limitations commonly associated with aging can further complicate effective communication. Additionally, elderly patients may internalize ageist attitudes, leading to less engagement in preventive behaviors and a reduced likelihood of seeking timely health care.

Taking Proactive Steps to Reduce Ageism in Health Care

Given that ageism exists at various levels within the healthcare system, combating it requires a comprehensive strategy encompassing multiple interventions. Here are key steps that can be taken to reduce ageism in health care:

Training Health Care Practitioners

One crucial aspect of combating ageism is providing comprehensive training to healthcare practitioners. This training should focus on raising awareness about ageist attitudes and behaviors, fostering empathy and understanding towards older patients, and promoting person-centered care. By equipping practitioners with the knowledge and skills necessary to challenge ageism, we can ensure that they provide quality care to all patients, regardless of age.

Revising Institutional Policies and Procedures

Institutional policies and procedures play a significant role in shaping the culture and practices within healthcare organizations. To combat ageism effectively, reviewing and revising these policies to eliminate any ageist biases is essential. This includes implementing guidelines that promote equitable treatment and address age-related issues in a fair and compassionate manner. By creating an inclusive and age-friendly environment, healthcare institutions can set a positive example and foster a culture that values and respects older patients.

Addressing Ageist Attitudes in Elderly Patients

While ageism is commonly associated with health care practitioners, it is crucial to recognize that ageist attitudes can also exist among elderly patients. We can empower older individuals to challenge their ageist beliefs and behaviors by implementing educational programs and initiatives. Encouraging open dialogue, providing accurate information about aging, and highlighting the importance of seeking appropriate health care can help combat self-ageism and promote proactive health-seeking behaviors.

Embracing an Individualized, Person-Centered Approach

One of the key strategies in mitigating ageism is adopting an individualized, person-centered approach to care. This means recognizing each older patient’s unique needs, preferences, and goals and tailoring care plans accordingly. Healthcare practitioners should actively involve older patients in decision-making, ensuring their voices are heard and respected. By embracing a patient-centered approach, we can promote autonomy, dignity, and overall well-being for older individuals.

Promoting Preventive Habits and Well-being

Advanced practice nurses (APNs) are crucial in combating ageism and promoting healthy aging. APNs can support the well-being of older patients by focusing on preventive habits and addressing age-related concerns. This includes educating elderly patients about the importance of regular check-ups, adopting healthy lifestyle choices, and engaging in preventive behaviors. By empowering older individuals to prioritize their health and well-being, APNs can reduce age-related health disparities and promote positive aging experiences.


Addressing ageism in health care is paramount to ensuring that older patients receive the quality care and attention they deserve. By understanding the prevalence of ageism, its forms, causes, and far-reaching effects, we can take proactive steps to combat ageism in the healthcare system. Through training healthcare practitioners, revising institutional policies, addressing ageist attitudes in elderly patients, and embracing person-centered care, we can create an inclusive and age-friendly healthcare environment. At [Your Organization’s Name], we are committed to eradicating ageism and fostering a compassionate, equitable, and person-centered approach to care. Together, we can build a healthcare system that values and respects individuals of all ages. is dedicated to promoting age-friendly practices and advocating for the well-being of older patients. To learn more about our program options and how we can support your career goals in the senior care field, fill out the form to receive information and take the next step toward making a positive impact in the lives of older individuals.

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