Ageism & Its Impact on Health

Saturday, July 23, 2022 - 7:15am

Jordan F. Karp, MD

In June, JAMA Network published a study that we, as geriatric psychiatrists, found concerning and of consequence for our patients and society. In the survey conducted by the Experiences of Everyday Ageism and the Health of Older U.S. Adults study, a 93.4% prevalence of ageism was reported by its respondents – who were 50 to 80 years old. In a youth worshipping culture, this is certainly not surprising, but what is concerning is the association of everyday ageism with detrimental health outcomes.
The study examined four areas of physical and mental health and found that higher levels of everyday ageism were correlated with increased risk in all four areas, which were: fair or poor physical health, number of chronic health conditions, fair or poor mental health, and depressive symptoms.
As with other forms of discrimination, the study notes that “everyday ageism is often subtle and may or may not be intentionally discriminatory. Nonetheless, these microaggressions may communicate that older adults are not fully accepted and respected, appreciated for their individuality, or deserving of the rights and privileges afforded other members of society.”
When people receive consistent messaging that they are not fully accepted and respected, they begin to internalize these viewpoints. Alarmingly and not unexpectedly, the study found that “internalized ageism was the category associated with the greatest increase in risk of poor outcomes for all health measures.”
While we don’t have control over larger societal commentaries on older adults, we can shift the narrative and change our own behavior. We can remember to respect the knowledge, wisdom, and experiences of older adults and stop making assumptions about abilities, health, and competencies. We encourage you to review page 3 on the study’s PDF to see examples of everyday ageism and contemplate how you interact with older adults.
Jordan F. Karp, Professor & Chair
Marianne Klugheit, MD, Ole Thienhaus, MD
Jasmine Singh, MD, Prab Singh, MD
Matthew Erisman, MD, Michael Duerden, MD