Ageism and Dental Care

Senior woman at the dentist. Ageism and dental care concept

For many Americans age 65 and older, dental care is a necessity that they cannot afford. Some older adults live on Social Security benefits of just $850 per month. Unfortunately, the cost of dental insurance and associated copays are just too expensive with this limiting budget. Additionally, the link between ageism and dental care means the care seniors receive is less than what they require.

As a result, seniors live with cavities, cracked or damaged teeth, and periodontal disease. Some seniors will turn to the emergency room for help while others may rely on over-the-counter remedies, or perform their own tooth extractions.

 

Dental Issues That Affect Older Adults

Oral health concerns that are common in people age 65 and older include:

  • Dry Mouth Syndrome is common in older adults. Caused by over 400 medications, severe dry mouth can contribute to cavities, mouth sores, infection, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Periodontal disease causes the gums to become red and swollen. Over time, the gums may separate from the teeth, and bone, tissue and tooth loss may occur. The inflammatory processes associated with long-term periodontal disease have been linked to dementia.

 

Ageism and Dental Care

Ageism is a term that refers to stereotypes assigned to older adults. Typically, ageism results in unequal access to medical prevention, detection, and treatment. For example, seniors receive fewer screenings for colorectal cancer, skin cancer, and osteoporosis than younger people. Even taking into account balancing the stress of the procedure on an older person, there is still a disproportionate imbalance in care. This is also troubling because the senior population is at greater risk for these diseases.

Although concern about age discrimination in healthcare usually focuses on medicine, disparities also occur in dentistry:

  • Ageist beliefs are a major factor in the inadequate provision of dental care for long-term care residents. Studies found that nursing home administrators believed that dentists were reluctant to see older residents, while the dentists felt the staff did not reach out for dental consultation often enough.
  • A survey of over 300 dental students found that a significant number believed older adults are less vital, less adaptable, and less likely to actively pursue goals than younger patients.
  • There are not enough geriatric-informed treatment standards. There is also call for better education among dental providers, caregivers, families, and patients.

 

Challenging Ageist Ideas

Research shows that when dental hygienist students and dental students have an opportunity to work directly with seniors, negative stereotypes towards this group are reduced.

 

Finding Affordable Care

Several resources are available to seniors who struggle to pay for dental care. Some dental hygienists can see older adults in their homes or at care facilities. This ensures cost-effective preventative care.

 

 Providing Compassionate Care

  • Address dry mouth by encouraging the use of over-the-counter rinses, pastes, sprays, and lozenges. All of these simple remedies will help lubricate the mouth.
  • Caregivers must ensure their own safety when assisting agitated clients with oral hygiene. For some patients with dementia, small brushes or oral foam swabs may work best.
  • Give dental hygiene its due focus. Devote at least 2 minutes to brushing teeth each day.

 

Dental health is of utmost importance to seniors. The rising tide of ageism makes it difficult to ensure all seniors are receiving proper care, but David York can help!

For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, please contact us at 718.376.7755. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on TwitterGoogle+, or LinkedIn.

Ageism, Elderspeak, and Long-Term Care

Wouldn’t you be confused if a near-stranger patted your head and called you “sweetie”, or if a nurse shouted instructions despite your excellent hearing? These behaviors are confusing and elicit irritation, but, for seniors, they are becoming more and more common. Ageism, elderspeak, and bias are an unfortunate reality for many seniors in long-term care. Seniors everywhere are struggling against the presumptions that demean them as well as the negative toll on their personal lives.

a care worker or medical professional with a senior client at her home . She is discussing the senior woman’s options on her digital tablet.

Ageism in Medicine

Ageism refers to negative stereotypes about older people that lead others to treat seniors differently from younger people. In medicine, extensive clinical evidence shows that older adults do not receive the same level of preventive care, diagnostic care or treatment as other age groups.

By speaking to residents in certain ways, long-term care workers perpetuate stereotypes about seniors. In turn, older adults may shut down or become angry at staff, which reduces their willingness to ask for help or to talk about their health concerns.

What is Elderspeak?

Elderspeak refers to a communication approach towards seniors that is based on the assumption that older people are incompetent, fragile or impaired. To some, elderspeak is unavoidable because many elders suffer from hearing loss or cognitive decline. But most seniors view elderspeak as a type of bullying that belittles their age. Elements of elderspeak include the following:

  • Speaking in a sing-song voice
  • Using baby talk
  • Talking too slowly
  • Interrupting frequently
  • Speaking loudly when it is unnecessary
  • Saying “we” instead of “you”
  • Using overly familiar endearments (“dearie,” “sweetie”) towards unfamiliar seniors
  • Using overly familiar signs of affection (hair-tousling, back-patting) towards unfamiliar seniors

Elderspeak and Dementia

Research suggests that elderspeak may be distressing to older adults, and may lead nursing home residents with dementia to act out negatively (e.g., disregard instructions, act aggressively) or to withdraw from social interactions altogether. This throws into sharp relief that even in the face of cognitive decline elderspeak has a negative impact on seniors.

Challenging Elderspeak

Several approaches can reduce the frequency of elderspeak. These include:

  • Self-awareness. Most nursing home staff do not realize that they sometimes use elderspeak to communicate with residents. This form of speech may occur among caregivers who genuinely want what is best for the people in their care. When caregivers become aware of their speech behaviors towards seniors, ageist assumptions are challenged.
  • Clear, respectful speech. Nursing staff should learn to speak to seniors in a normal, conversational way, including the use of humor when appropriate. A simple educational lecture is all the difference necessary to raise awareness among caregivers.
  • Encourage assertiveness. Not every senior will take offense at all elderspeak practices. Some seniors find nicknames such as “sweetie” or “honey”, endearing. However, when seniors are annoyed or hurt by certain utterances they can be encouraged to speak out, for example, to say, “You don’t need to yell, I have a hearing aid” or “My name is Lori, can you call me that?” By using calm, clear wording, seniors can advocate for themselves and challenge the inaccurate perceptions of others.

David York Agency provides exceptional in-home care for seniors. If you have further questions about ageism, please contact us.

For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free phone consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the assistance they need. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on TwitterGoogle+, or LinkedIn.

What is Ageism in Medicine?

Today, there is an unfortunate epidemic that is affecting the elderly. This problem is the result of biases, misconceptions, and assumptions. We refer to it as “ageism in medicine.”

Consider this: a doctor tells a 75-year-old woman to ignore her back pain because aches and pains is a “normal” part of aging. Miles away, a research study about the side effects of a cholesterol-lowering medication includes no research subjects over the age of 60. In addition, the drug in question is most commonly prescribed to the elderly. What’s wrong with this picture?

These stories have one theme in common. They reflect a serious social issue called medical ageism, a phenomenon that affects millions of American seniors.

 

What is Ageism in Medicine?

Ageism is described as the “systematic stereotyping of, and discrimination against, people because they are old.” In medicine, ageism results in deficiencies in the medical care that older adults receive. Ageism is a term coined in the 1970s by the late Dr. Robert Butler, renowned and groundbreaking geriatrician, and it is still occurring today.

It is a fact that the elderly receive less aggressive medical prevention, detection, and treatment than younger adults. As a result, greater rates of preventable disability and early mortality occur among this age group.

Ageism is everywhere. It occurs at the institutional level, as evidenced by the lack of training provided in geriatric medicine. It also happens at the individual level. For instance, a doctor or nurse does not spend the required time with her senior patients to get to the root of the problem because they are “depressing” or “old”.

 

Examples of Ageism in Medicine

  • Only 40% of older Americans receive routine health care screenings for high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. This occurs despite the fact that these conditions worsen with age.
  • Only 10% of older Americans receive prostate and colon cancer exams even though early intervention is crucial for treating these diseases.
  • A doctor complains that his next patient is a “difficult old lady” who is a “trainwreck” waiting to happen.
  • A 70-year-old widower tells his doctor that he is always sad and has lost a lot of weight. The doctor doesn’t refer the man for depression screening despite the fact that the suicide rate for elderly white men is higher than it is for any other group in America.

The list goes on.

 

How Can I Help?

If you are a healthcare provider or professional caregiver

  • Seek out training opportunities in geriatric care and medicine.
  • Be mindful of any implicit biases (prejudices you may not be aware of) that affect how you perceive and interact with older adults.
  • Be aware of the language you use to describe older patients. Phrases like  “cranky old-timer” and “sweet old lady” may seem harmless, but they can perpetuate stereotypes about older adults.

If you are a family member or caregiver

  • Be assertive in ensuring that your loved one receives routine, preventive care. Do not assume that her physician’s office will automatically conduct regular screenings.
  • Help empower your senior relative to have a plan before talking to the doctor.
  • Educate yourself about ageism in medicine and become an advocate for your older relative.

 

For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free consultation will help determine what services your loved one needs. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on TwitterGoogle+, or LinkedIn.

Ageism in Medicine: Lack of Geriatric Specialists Creates Medical Ageism

The number of geriatric medical health caregivers is not keeping pace with the increasing number of older Americans. In addition, there is a lack of adequate training in the field of geriatric medicine as well as an insufficient amount of hands-on clinical experience. While physicians may have experience dealing with senior patients in their practice, they don’t have the same broad base of knowledge specific to the elderly as physicians who specialize in geriatric medicine. Unfortunately, this all adds up to a lack of geriatric specialists and ageism in senior medicine.

 

Lack of geriatric specialists

Focusing on Geriatric Problems

According to the AARP, specialists in fields such as oncology, urology, and neurology focus on these specific fields, but neglect to study the particulars of accumulated diseases in the elderly. Seniors accumulate medical issues over a lifetime, and these problems require a different medical approach. Geriatric healthcare professionals also understand the necessity of high-level compassion and communication when handling older patients. As it stands, doctors often discuss their senior patients’ prognosis or treatment with family members, bypassing the patient altogether. This creates a feeling of invisibility and lack of respect.

Geriatric Specializations: The Facts

Research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) shows that most existing medical training does not cover the scope of the special needs and diverse conditions of older patients. In addition, medical students are not choosing geriatrics as a specialty. The following data demonstrates this problem:

  • fewer than 8,000 physicians are certified in geriatrics
  • less than 1 percent of pharmacists have geriatric certification
  • less than 1 percent of registered nurses specialize in geriatrics
  • fewer than 2,000 doctors specialize in geriatric psychiatry

Changing the System

Geriatric specializations need to be taken more seriously. First, there need to be more programs that offer this specialty. Next, – what with the rising population of elderly patients –  it should be made a more established path into medicine. We must see geriatric focus in healthcare programs for primary care doctors and offered as a specialty by more educational facilities. Above all, medical institutions should make geriatric medicine more attractive to those choosing a specialty.

Seniors benefit in many ways from seeing geriatric specialists; not only is their overall healthcare and quality of life better, but they are hospitalized less often and can lead more independent lives. This, in turn, lowers overall medical costs and creates a healthier generation of Americans. Ageism in medicine is an unfortunate reality. However, the right information can lead to improvement.

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When you need home healthcare for a senior in your family, contact us. Our licensed practical nurses (LPN), registered nurses (RN), certified personal care aides (PCA) and certified home health aides (HHA) are ready to help. We employ professionals trained in the care and needs of geriatric patients. Let us can help your loved one live a more independent, fulfilled life.