Ageism rife in Australian health systems

A review of 15 studies into Australian health systems has found doctors, psychologists, nurses and other allied health clinicians are ageist.

The review by senior clinical lecturer at Sydney University Dr Neil Jeyasingam attributed the negative perspectives of ageing to “death anxiety”, poor education and lack of exposure to older people during training.

The negative perspectives on ageing were evident regardless of health industry.

Dr Jeyasingam, a medical administrator, old age psychiatrist and researcher with the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research, said older adults used health care systems more often than younger groups and were more vulnerable to biases regarding ageing and expectations of old age.

A fear of older people was noted to be driven by “death anxiety” – one study among the 15 reviewed noting that “people have negative attitudes to older adults because they bring to mind the reality that they themselves will become old, and being old is regarded as an undesirable state”.

“There is arguably only one constant in ageing... and that is increasing dependence on health systems... Until agencies are able to determine a clear picture of how ageing can be celebrated, and how this concept can be taught... impaired patient care is inevitable."

The comprehensive review was published last month in Australasian Psychiatry.

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