Ageism is particularly prevalent in health and long-term care systems. Research has shown that older people are less likely to receive optimal or expensive treatment, more likely to be subjected to paternalistic behaviour that limits their autonomy and more likely to be approached using ‘elder talk’.
In 2012 a study from Belgium showed that almost 40% of the people in Flanders were convinced that people beyond the age of 85 were not worthy of expensive medical treatment.
The decisions of medical professionals “may not always be made on the basis of a comprehensive and objective assessment, but on a series of assumptions about fitness in older age. This could be due to outdated perceptions of how demanding a treatment regime may be, or a lack of awareness about demographic changes and the increasing fitness of older people.”
Several health interventions and preventive screening are not offered to people beyond a certain age. In some countries older people do not receive the same level of financial assistance to access health services. Older people may also be excluded from clinical trials and are more likely to be prescribed multiple drugs (a condition known as polypharmacy) without considering the effect this has on their health and well-being.
“While the single most important risk factor for the development of cancer is age, improvements in survival rates have been less pronounced for older women. It is unclear why this is the case, but there is multiple and widespread evidence of a reduction in the investigation, management and treatment of cancers more generally with the increasing age of the patient”.
Due to negative attitudes towards older people there is also far less investment in related services and a shortage of health and social care workers.