Addressing Ageism to Ensure the Safety & Security of Older People

After many months, the long awaited Long-Term Care Homes Public Inquiry Report was released. The 1,500 page, four-volume report addressed systemic vulnerabilities and the 91 recommendations are built around four strategies: prevention, awareness, deterrence and detection. While the report identified systematic gaps and recommendations to prevent these horrific events from occurring again, the report missed the opportunity to address another root cause – ageism.

As we get older, ageist thoughts and behaviours increase with the coroner missing all the signs – ‘after all, these people were old and they had to die of something’. Had Wettlaufer not confessed and self-identify what she had done, these crimes would have gone undiscovered and unpunished.

The Ontario Human Rights Code deals with ageism and in reality, this area still needs to be further addressed and continually challenged. The use of language demeans how we think of older people with someone over the age of 65 sometimes described as an ‘old fart’ or considered ‘bed blockers’ in the hospital system.

When older individuals including these long-term care residents told their families about being afraid of Elizabeth Wettlaufer, these fears and concerns could have been easily dismissed. Perhaps it was their dementia that made them fearful? Or medication they were prescribed by the physicians and administered regularly by the nurse, even when or if the person asked them not to? Perhaps language or culture clouded the person’s perspective?

Ontario Society of Senior Citizens Organizations (OSSCO©©©) commends the report in identifying the systemic issues with more funding needed in the long-term care system. Having minimal staff in long-term care or retirement residences to oversee a large number of older people, many with complex needs is not acceptable. Funding is needed to increase staff to patient ratios, provide more education and training to health care staff and to encourage the number of gerontologists in the health care system.

As a network of organizations that supports our aging population, OSSCO©©© strongly holds its position to enhancing the quality of life in older people and addressing ageism. All health professionals and para-professionals must have training or formal education in dealing with the elderly and being aware of the various illnesses and disabilities associated with aging. With this training and knowledge, deaths such as these crimes in the hands of health care professionals can be prevented.

All of OSSCO©©©’s programming includes the concepts of ageism so that our older learners and their families are able to identify, address and deal with situations where ageist behaviours and attitudes form the basis of inappropriate or indignant actions. Since 2012, OSSCO©©© has provided continuous feedback to the Ministry of Health & Long Term Care and will continue to do so in overcoming ageism in our society. As the leader in empowerment learning, OSSCO©©© is escalating the conversation on ageism so that older people remain safe, and are treated with respect and dignity as we age.

To read the full report, please click here.

To read the news release for Ontario Health Coalition, please click here.