Strategies to Combat Ageism in Emergency Medicine

Volume 3 | Issue 2 | Article 2 - Topic Supplement

Anita Chary, MD PhD, Lauren Cameron-Comasco, MD, FACEP, Anita Rohra, MD, FACEP, Shan W. Liu, MD ScD
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Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel), and discrimination
(how we act) towards others and/or oneself on the basis of age. 1 Ageism can affect people of
all age groups. Within medicine, biases against older adults, commonly defined as individuals that are
age 65 and older, can negatively impact experiences of health care and health outcomes. While many
older adults develop illnesses, frailty, and limitations in functional status as they age, others remain
mentally healthy and physically well into their 90s. Emergency clinicians are disproportionately
exposed to the former in medical practice and may equate aging with dependence and conflate
advancing age with disability and frailty.2 Such perspectives may be subconsciously expressed in the
ways we interact with our patients. Some examples include preferentially communicating with a family
member rather than directly with an older patient, making assumptions about their medical history, or
referring to an older patient as “dear,” as further detailed below. Patients who perceive differential or
disrespectful treatment on the basis of age may have decreased trust in their care team and a lower
likelihood of following recommendations or returning to care. There are multiple practical steps that we
as clinicians can take to combat ageism in emergency medicine.

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