Age discrimination in a healthcare setting is linked to an increase in physical ailments, according to a new survey. The findings show that one in every three older Americans who experience age-related discrimination in a healthcare setting will likely develop new or worsened health problems over time.
The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, is the first to specifically investigate the health effects that discrimination in the health setting has on older adults.
The researchers analyzed data from 6,017 Americans over 50 years of age who took part in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 nationally representative Health and Retirement Study. The survey covered important aspects of the aging process, and included questions about healthcare discrimination.
One in every five participants reported that they had experienced healthcare-related discrimination. Age was the most common type of discrimination among respondents of all sexes and age groups, as well as those who have difficulty completing daily tasks. It was also the most common reason given by members of most racial or ethnic groups, with African American being the exception.
Follow-up studies further showed that almost a third of older adults (28.5 percent) who frequently experienced such discrimination subsequently developed new or worsened disabilities over the course of the four years. In contrast, participants who never or seldom experienced such treatment were more likely to maintain their health status.
According to the researchers, the findings reveal that healthcare discrimination differs from discrimination outside of the medical setting. She believes it is more strongly linked to the development of disability among older patients and their increased inability to care for themselves.
“Reducing experiences of discrimination and the perception of discrimination should be a priority in its own right,” says Stephanie Rogers, a fellow in geriatrics at University of California San Francisco in the United States, who calls for more research into the reasons, sources and precise nature of the relationship between healthcare discrimination and the development of disability.
“Providers and healthcare workers can aim to treat each patient with respect, dignity and fairness regardless of age, race or socioeconomic status, and this in turn may improve the function of our aging society,” she adds.
“Hopefully, we will find that reducing experiences of discrimination improves the function and well-being of older adults, sparing them, their family, caregivers and society of financial, physical and emotional distress.”