The fight for social justice has taken center stage in our country in recent years. Unfortunately, there’s one form of discrimination that continues to persist largely unnoticed: ageism. It can impact almost every aspect of seniors’ lives, from housing to healthcare.
When you’re the caregiver of an aging person, you may well be the last line of defense in protecting a senior’s rights. Ageism may feel like an insurmountable challenge to add to your list of things to keep track of as a caregiver, and after all, you’re just one person. However, one person can lead to incredible change. With simple education, you can identify even the most subtle signs of ageism and utilize strategies to right this terrible wrong.
Ageism in Healthcare
One of the most prevalent and most pernicious aspects of ageism is its impact on healthcare. All too often, imminently treatable conditions are disregarded or minimized as merely a part of the “normal” aging process. Because of that (often false) assumption, such conditions aren’t treated as aggressively or effectively as they could be, which ultimately diminishes the seniors’ quality of life.
Perhaps even more concerning is the tendency to limit care based on “quality of life” assumptions. Simply put, ageism in healthcare is a form of medical discrimination that leads clinicians to view the aging patient not as an individual, but as a number on a medical chart. This could ultimately be connected with the fact that only five medical schools in the nation include a geriatrics department, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. By not receiving the proper training, medical students lack the knowledge on how to properly care for seniors and end up ignoring their desperate needs.
Unfortunately, age-related medical discrimination doesn’t just occur in the doctor’s office. It is also ubiquitous in the insurance industry. Insurers may limit their coverage options or boost their premiums and copays based on the client’s health status. This often puts aging individuals at a disadvantage; even those who have retained their ability to work and are securing coverage through their employer.
For this reason, it’s imperative to monitor your senior’s coverage and, when necessary, seek the support of an attorney specializing in disability and age discrimination law.
Another important strategy for combating medical discrimination and other forms of ageism in the healthcare industry is to cultivate open and productive relationships with your senior’s medical teams. Learning to speak openly, honestly, and frequently with your charge’s care providers can minimize the risk of ageist stereotyping. It also ensures that they know your senior not as a number, but as a unique and irreplaceable human being with particular needs, wants, and values.
Ageism in Housing
Unfortunately, medicine and insurance aren’t the only arenas where ageism may be ubiquitous. Age discrimination also pervades the housing industry, even though this discrimination is illegal according to federal law. A particularly significant issue is not just the denial of mortgages or leases to seniors based on age, but also the refusal to allow modifications to retinal properties based on the seniors’ medical needs.
However, as the population ages, more seniors are looking to age-in-place. Aging-in-place often involves renovations to the senior’s current home to meet their evolving needs, from modifying bathrooms to making them more wheelchair accessible or installing handrails for those with mobility issues.
Under federal law, these modifications are allowed in rental housing units, as long as they’re undertaken at the tenants’ expense, they don’t require disruptive structural changes to the unit, and the unit is returned to its original condition after the tenant leaves.
In an era marked by the fight for social justice, ageism remains a persistent challenge. However, if you are a caregiver, understanding what to look out for can help you protect your senior’s rights and protect their quality of life. The key is to understand the often subtle ways ageism manifests, particularly in such critical domains like healthcare and housing.
Updated: March 7, 2021