Age discrimination could have a negative impact on people's physical health

Sarah Young
Thursday 04 April 2019 11:15
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It is no surprise that age discrimination negatively affects people's mental health but, according to new research, it could be having an impact on physical health too.

University College London analysed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which surveyed more than 7,500 people over the age of 50 and followed their progress for six years.

Participants were asked to respond to statements such as “you are treated with less respect or courtesy”, “you receive poorer service than other people in restaurants and stores”, and “you receive poorer service or treatment than other people from doctors or hospitals”.

They were also questioned about their experiences of being thought of as “not clever”, being threatened and harassed.

According to the findings, a quarter of over 50s taking part in the survey claimed they had been unfairly treated because of their age.

What’s more, these reported victims of ageism were also more likely to suffer health problems, or develop them over time, suggesting there is a link between age discrimination and ill health.

Members of this group were more likely to rate their health as “fair or poor” than those who had not encountered ageism, the research states.

They were also more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms or debilitating long-term illnesses, and go on to develop serious conditions.

Among those who said they had not recently experienced age discrimination, 13 per cent reported having coronary heart disease, 38 per cent reported arthritis, 33 per cent said they had a long-standing condition and 12 per cent said they had depressive symptoms.

By contrast, among participants who said they had recently faced ageism, the figures rose to 17 per cent for coronary heart disease, 44 per cent for arthritis, 39 per cent for a long-standing condition and 19 per cent for depressive symptoms.

The study’s lead author Dr Sarah Jackson, from University College London, says: “As a society, we need to increase public awareness of what constitutes ageism and how it can affect health and well-being so we can build collective movements, like those that brought about legislative and social change for other forms of discrimination.

”On a clinical level, raising the issue of age discrimination with older patients could help to identify those at risk of future health problems.“

The results also suggest that the more situations in which people experience age discrimination, the greater their chance of reporting bad health.

When the researchers looked at data from 5,595 of the participants, collected six years after the first survey, they found that participants who had previously reported ageism were more likely to report a deterioration in health.

However, the team did say the findings could also work the other way, suggesting that those in poorer health might experience more age-related discrimination.

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Commenting on the findings in The Lancet Public Health journal, Professor Martin Gulliford, from King's College London, writes: ”The public health community has been slow to acknowledge the central role of discrimination in health inequality.

“Although the inter-relationships between age, socioeconomic status, health status and experienced discrimination are complex, these findings suggest that not only does age discrimination cause short-term psychological distress to older people, but could also have an important effect on their long-term mental and physical health.”

Louise Ansari, from the Centre for Ageing Better, insists that “no-one in later life should be made to feel like a second-class citizen”.

“It is completely unacceptable that age discrimination should play a role in our society, but sadly it's still all too common. And ageist attitudes and age discrimination don't just affect your health.”

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