Ageism During the Coronavirus

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Charmaine and the staff at Senior Living Consultants


In late April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom advised hospitals to prioritize care for younger people, with greater life expectancy, during the coronavirus outbreak. After receiving criticism from a disability rights group, the comments were soon replaced with new guidelines stating California’s commitment to prohibiting discrimination and promising that the administration would ensure new care recommendations which reflect the state’s values.

During the coronavirus crisis, older adults may feel as if their lives are of less value than their younger counterparts should they become sick with COVID-19. It is a fact that hospitals in the United States are required to address ethical issues and have guidelines in place to prioritize patient care if there is a shortage of equipment. However, hospital committees look at a number of factors including: age, life expectancy, severity of a patient’s illness, and if treatment will help. Other points are also considered such as any underlying illnesses a patient (of any age) has including diabetes, COPD, cancer, or heart disease.

The World Health Organization defines ageism as the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. Unfortunately, older adults encounter ageism on a regular basis. This can take the form of clichés in advertising, snide comments made by family, friends, or the general public, as well as outright discrimination in workplace hiring.


Combat Ageism

Fortunately, as of today, hospitals located in the major areas of coronavirus outbreaks report there are enough  ICU beds and ventilators available for every patient (no matter the age) who might need one. However, ageism continues throughout our culture. Certain prejudices will persist unless we all move towards making positive changes to alter the way perceive and act towards older adults.

  • Speak up. When someone makes a comment about your age which makes you feel marginalized or “less than” let them know you find it offensive. Example: “It’s nice to see someone older so good with a computer.” This is an assumption that all seniors are not up with the latest technology. An effective reply: “What do you mean? or Why wouldn’t I be good with a computer?” This response forces an individual to reflect on their own biases about seniors.
  • Stay engaged. By staying active and involved in life, older adults can counteract the typical stereotypes  people have of seniors. Stay current on relevant topics, take online classes, exercise, and volunteer. Learn to communicate the way younger family members and friends do–through text or social media.
  • Remain upbeat. Nobody likes a complainer of any age. When you are around other people stay upbeat and positive. Don’t talk endlessly about medical problems or ailments.
  • Stay independent. As long as it is safe, continue to do as much for yourself as possible. Don’t assume, because you are an older adult, that you should not longer be doing certain activities (driving, exercising, mowing the yard, gardening, traveling solo).


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