Saturday, January 2, 2016

Healthcare Fears of Being Stereotyped: Older Adult Concerns (Research, Video 3:40)

Stereotypes have a way of showing up in all kinds of circumstances, including those related to healthcare. It’s shocking how threats of numerous stereotypes can impact so many areas of people’s lives. Think about all the stereotypes that can be drawn from just looking at a person (age, race, ethnicity, weight, disability, mannerisms, etc.) or listening to a person (word choices, accents, evasiveness, humor, etc.), and it becomes clearer that many people carry extra burdens with them that present real threats to the kinds of experiences they have in healthcare situations. Too many times, the threats of stereotypes are real. But, even when the threats are not real, do they still impact patient care?

No one should be reduced to being viewed as a group stereotype. Unfortunately, older adults have been blanketed with many negative stereotypes by society. Ageism is alive and well, and they experience it. In addition to other numerous stereotypes, older adults may fear being judged in healthcare contexts on several characteristics. A research study with older adults in the Health and Retirement Study was done to assess the impact of threats of being stereotyped in healthcare situations. 

This study included 1,479 individuals. They were tested on whether healthcare stereotype threats were associated with self-rated health, reported hypertension and depressive symptoms, as well as with healthcare-related outcomes, including physician distrust, dissatisfaction with healthcare, and preventative care use. These were the results:

1)  Seventeen percent of respondents reported threats of healthcare stereotypes with respect to one or more aspects of their identities.
2)  Healthcare stereotype threats were associated with higher physician distrust and dissatisfaction with healthcare, poorer mental and physical health (i.e., self-rated health, hypertension, and depressive symptoms), and lower odds of receiving the influenza vaccine.

This study is the first of its kind. It reveals that people do experience healthcare stereotype threats on the basis of various stigmatized aspects of social identity and that these experiences can be linked with larger health and healthcare-related outcomes. In terms of disparities, keep in mind that the impact of the stereotype threats may be experienced in addition to the impact of real stereotypes they actually do experience in the healthcare arena. The healthcare industry must educate and monitor staff regarding stereotypes in general to improve healthcare-related outcomes and achieve person-centered care for everyone.

In a society where younger people are idolized, many have come to perceive old people as invisible, dependent, and not as valued as the young. This video describes the roots and consequences of ageism in America.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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