Why Age Matters to Health
Long life is a sign of good health, and the ageing of the world’s population is an indicator of improving health worldwide. Although there are no specific conditions or illnesses associated with ‘being old’, the older people get the more likely they may be to experience a range of different conditions such as chronic disease, cancer and disability and to experience more than one of these together.
Healthcare, lifestyle and experience in childhood and adolescence have a significant impact on physical and mental health in later life. Certain conditions particularly affect young people, such as some inherited problems, accidents and injury and sexual and mental health issues, or they may have different experiences of conditions which affect all ages.
Traditional assumptions about age related conditions are increasingly being challenged. People with conditions previously associated with childhood, e.g. cystic fibrosis, severe physical disability, are increasingly surviving into adulthood. Similarly, younger people may suffer from conditions previously associated with ‘old age’ such as dementia or the need for social care and support.
Age discrimination and health
Age discrimination in health can lead to inappropriate treatment, misdiagnosis or reluctance from patients to get involved with health services. It may take some of the following forms:
- Stereotyping of old age as being automatically linked to ill-health
- Low expectations of older people’s mental capacity, leading to inappropriate behaviour or symptoms not being believed.
- Health or social care support or treatments having upper or lower age limits.
- Lack of support or time for meals, resulting in undernourishment
- Young people being placed in adult wards
- Information not produced with age group in mind
- Judgemental attitudes
- Confidentiality and anonymity not respected
- Abuse or neglect or older or young people, in hospitals, care settings or at home
- Denial of the right to make choices about health and personal affairs