Ageism in Health Care

As a Baby Boomer I’m concerned that our health care system isn’t prepared for the demographic shift about to overtake it.

It’s no secret we are an aging population. So what is the health care system doing to prepare? My health care authority is raising $8 million for a palliative care unit. That sounds good, but what are they doing to actually treat older citizens who may not be terminally ill? How are they keeping them healthy and allowing them to continue to enjoy life?

We have palliative care doctors, but how many gerontologists do we have? US décor and cooking diva Martha Stewart had to deal with finding care for her elderly mother. She investigated and found that there are only 8,000 gerontologists in the United States and that number was declining!

How many gerontologists do we have in Canada? Since I originally asked how many gerontologists there are in Nova Scotia I have learned that there are 10 with this license. I am told that like palliative care doctors, which aren’t a Royal College specialty, the gerontologist role is often performed by general practitioners with a specialization in geriatric medicine. It seems a rather casual approach in a province with such a fast-aging population.

What is the system doing to prepare staff and facilities for older patients? Mostly what are they doing to change their attitudes to the elderly?

I think our system is ageist. It seems to me that we focus more on patients’ exiting this life than extending their lives. There seems to be an assumption that for every elderly person who comes into hospital it’s enough to make them comfortable. No one seems to question or consider that this person, while old, may actually be active, productive and other than the cause which brought them in, able to live a meaningful life. I question if DNR (Do No Resuscitate) isn’t perceived as Do No Treat. Right now we seem to lean more to the Kevorkian school.

In our situation doctors couldn’t tell us what was wrong with the patient. And when I refused to stop blood transfusions – letting someone bleed to death seems too medieval to accept – they treated me like the village idiot, like someone who couldn’t face reality. I can handle death, but I cannot, would not suspend treatments until they could provide a definitive reason why. Just because someone is old doesn’t mean they don’t deserve treatment or consideration. Had I listened to the doctors we wouldn’t have had another 14 months. Our family member wouldn’t have enjoyed sitting in beautiful gardens feeling the sun on her skin, inhaling the aroma of the flowers and sweet perfume of just-mown-grass, or heard birdsong. She wouldn’t have attended concerts and tapped her hand and foot along with the music. She wouldn’t have seen family and friends and enjoyed a real bath and having her hair done. There is a great quality of life to simple things.

Our health care system doesn’t understand any of this. They see diseases, not people. Keep a close rein on them.

3 Responses to Ageism in Health Care

  1. Those who have an interest may like to inform themselves about developments in age management medicine. I am of the opinion that it is very important for patients to be highly informed. Better outcomes result when patients are more than passive consumers of whatever “the system delivers”.

  2. mck says:

    I have been struggling for 5 1/2 years with the traumatic, premature death of my vibrant, young 73-year-old mother. Her cause of death? She fractured her wrist after tripping on a piece of concrete at a flea market.

    This seemingly ordinary, innocuous mishap set off a series of health care nightmares and negligence that would forever change the course of our family’s life and that would ultimately take the life of the beautiful, healthy, intuitive, and compassionate woman I called Ma.

    What a Florida Hospital started, a Halifax Hospital finished. Along the way were many callous, indifferent, self-serving individuals posing as doctors, nurses, residents, insurance company representatives, and health care administrators: American, Canadian, and yes…Nova Scotian.

    Our story is as complex as they come..but one thing is for sure…my beautiful Ma did not survive. …I cannot possibly forgive the torture, and extreme agony she was subjected to at the hands of “health care.”

    My Ma was a youthful, stylish, social, compassionate, vibrant, young, retired snowbird…simply enjoying life and retirement with my Dad. Had she not tripped on that piece of concrete in the flea market, I’m certain she would still be with us. There were so many errors with medication and infection control practice, it’s hard to know what specifically tipped the balance. One thing is for certain…were it not for the lack of concern inside the system, she may have had a chance. She fought the battle of her life for three long months…three months in which the errors and neglect piled up and eventually took her life.

    I’m somewhat sad to say that myself and my sister (my Mother’s only children) both earn our living in that system, each of us fulfilling very different roles in two distinctly different parts of the system. Only one thing gives me comfort about being part of that system – knowing that I genuinely care about what I’m doing. My Mother’s brother was lost in the system as well; something my Mother was never able to come to terms with during her lifetime. I work in roughly the same area in which he received most of his care, and so I try somehow to make it up to her by helping those who are suffering with the same illness as he did. I know she was proud of that, and it does help me to know I’m making a tiny bit of difference.

    But one person’s efforts within a tiny corner of the system are felt only within that tiny corner. What you’re doing has the potential to reach and affect the entire system. And for that too I’m grateful.

  3. Health Guide says:

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this blog.

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