The Economic and Health Toll of Ageism on Older Adults: Research Points to Ageism Costing the US $63 Billion Annually

In our society, the rising population of older adults brings to light the critical issue of ageism—not only as a prevalent form of discrimination but also as a significant contributor to economic and health dilemmas. Groundbreaking research has begun to quantify the profound effects of ageism, revealing a staggering economic burden alongside severe health consequences for older adults.

A seminal study published in The Gerontologist emphasizes the substantial economic costs and the exacerbation of health conditions due to ageism in the United States. It reports a jaw-dropping $63 billion annual cost attributed to ageism, affecting eight major health conditions among individuals aged 60 and older. This figure represents about 15.4% of the total expenditure on these conditions, underlining ageism’s hefty toll on the healthcare system.

The research categorizes ageism into three predictors: age discrimination (detrimental treatment based on age), negative age stereotypes (negative beliefs about older individuals), and negative self-perceptions of aging (older persons’ adverse beliefs about their own aging process). The interaction of these factors not only inflates healthcare costs significantly but also leads to an estimated 17.04 million cases of health conditions directly attributable to ageist attitudes.

Figure 1 Health care costs of age discrimination, negative age stereotypes,
and negative self-perceptions of aging in 1 year

Let’s illustrate the impact of ageism with the story of Michael a 65-year-old who, after being laid off due to company “restructuring,” struggled to find new employment. Encounters with subtle age discrimination during job interviews, where younger interviewers doubted her tech-savviness and ability to adapt, led Michael to internalize these ageist stereotypes, affecting her mental and physical health. This narrative is not uncommon and showcases the interplay of external discrimination and internalized ageism, culminating in adverse health outcomes.

Moreover, the study sheds light on the direct linkage between ageist perceptions and various health conditions. For example, older adults facing discrimination or harboring negative self-views about aging are more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and musculoskeletal disorders, among others. This link underscores the physiological toll that psychological and social factors of ageism can exact on individuals.

Table 1 Based on population of Americans aged 60 or older in 2013.

It is crucial to highlight that the implications of ageism extend beyond individual experiences to broader societal losses. Economic ramifications are palpable in diminished productivity, increased healthcare spending, and lost opportunities for growth. The study calls for a concerted effort to combat ageism, suggesting that even a 10% reduction in ageist attitudes could prevent 1.7 million cases of health conditions among older adults.

The narrative of Clara, an 80-year-old who joined a community program challenging age stereotypes through intergenerational activities, exemplifies successful intervention. By sharing her extensive knowledge and life experiences, Clara not only contributed to the community’s enrichment but also improved her self-perception of aging, leading to better health outcomes.

This comprehensive study not only quantifies the cost of ageism in stark economic and health terms but also calls for a shift in societal attitudes towards older adults. By fostering an environment of respect, inclusion, and opportunity for all ages, we can mitigate the detrimental impacts of ageism, benefiting both individuals and society at large. As we advance, let us remember the invaluable contributions of older adults and work towards dismantling the barriers of ageism, paving the way for a healthier, more inclusive future.

Reference:

Levy, Becca R et al. “Ageism Amplifies Cost and Prevalence of Health Conditions.” The Gerontologist vol. 60,1 (2020): 174-181. doi:10.1093/geront/gny131 

Revolutionizing Long-Term Care: Addressing the Mental Health of Older Adults 

As a leader or caregiver in the long-term care industry, you’ve dedicated your life to understanding the complex needs of older adults. Yet, a critical aspect of their well-being often remains overlooked: mental health. A recent research article underscores this very concern, offering insights that can transform our approach to elder care. 

Long-term care centers across the country face the constant challenge of catering to the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of older adults. As many caregivers focus primarily on medical and daily living necessities, the vital realm of mental health has often taken a backseat. 

According to a riveting article published by NPR earlier this year, older adults are not just battling physical health problems but are also grappling with an array of mental health issues. The findings, pivotal for anyone in the caregiving industry, compel us to integrate comprehensive mental health strategies into our care models. 

A Growing Concern 

The article highlights that mental health problems among older adults aren’t just limited to feelings of sadness or loneliness. They encompass conditions such as anxiety, depression, and even cognitive decline leading to dementia. Surprisingly, these issues remain largely undiagnosed and untreated, leaving a significant portion of our older adult population to suffer in silence. 

One might ponder, why is there a neglect in diagnosing and treating mental health problems in older adults? Stereotypes and misconceptions play a significant role. Society often dismisses the emotional struggles of the elderly as ‘normal aging’, or merely symptoms of their physical health problems. These mistaken beliefs prevent early detection and timely interventions. 

The Stakes for Long-Term Care Centers 

For leaders and caregivers in long-term care centers, understanding and addressing the mental health of residents is crucial. It’s not just about improving their quality of life but also enhancing the overall experience of the care center. 

When the mental well-being of residents improves: 

  • They engage more in social activities, fostering a sense of community. 
  • The rate of medical complications decreases, leading to cost savings. 
  • Caregivers experience fewer challenges in daily care, reducing burnout and turnover rates. 

Towards a Holistic Care Model 

The way forward is clear. Long-term care centers need to adopt a holistic care model, one that sees residents not just as patients with physical needs but as individuals with emotional and psychological needs. 

Here are some steps leaders and caregivers can take: 

  1. Training and Awareness: Educate staff about the prevalence of mental health issues among older adults and the importance of early detection. 
  1. Integrating Mental Health Screening: Regular mental health screenings should be as standard as physical health checks. 
  1. Collaboration with Mental Health Professionals: Establish partnerships with mental health professionals to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment. 
  1. Fostering Social Interaction: Encourage activities that stimulate the mind and foster social bonds. This could include book clubs, group exercises, art therapy, and more. 
  1. Empathy and Patient-Centered Care: Remember that every resident has a unique life story. Approach care with empathy, understanding their individual experiences, fears, and aspirations. 

In conclusion, it’s imperative that we shift our perspectives and include mental health as a core component of care. The findings of this research article are not just an eye-opener but a call to action. Let’s ensure our care centers are truly comprehensive havens of health and wellness for older adults. 

Sources: 

Milne-Tyte, A. (2023, August 14). Call it “stealth mental health” – some care for elders helps more without the label. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2023/08/14/1193738304/mental-health-older-adults