Call for ageism awareness training for workers

Aged care providers should educate staff about ageism, Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Aged care providers should educate staff about ageism, Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Kay Patterson

“I’d like to see them doing training to make people more aware of their ageist attitudes and how that can actually influence the way they deliver care, either in the home or an aged care setting,” she said.

Dr Patterson’s comments come after research conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission shows ageist attitudes can be changed through educational intervention.

A total of 329 aged care and community workers were surveyed before and after a brief educational workshop designed to shift ageist thinking within the aged care and community sectors.

Following the two-and-a-half-hour awareness training, the commission found that ageist attitudes among the cohort had reduced significantly.

Furthermore, the improved attitudes remained when a follow-up survey was conducted three months later.

As the commission’s 106-page report – Changing perspectives: testing an ageism intervention – shows:

  • 90 per cent of participants rethought the way they communicated with older people
  • 87 per cent had a conversation with people about ageism
  • 86 per cent thought about what they could do to shift ageist attitudes in their workplace
  • 82 per cent rethought their attitudes towards ageing.

“That’s a stunning outcome,” said Dr Patterson. “We got very encouraging results, which indicates to me we need to do more research.”

Post-workshop focus groups also found that participants:

  • avoided making assumptions about people based on their age
  • changed the language they used
  • respected clients’ autonomy and independence.

Dr Patterson – who is stepping down from her commissioner role later this month – told AAA that, following the training, aged care staff were already implementing concrete changes in the workplace.

“Someone said we’ve already raised it in our staff meeting and we’re going to put it on our agenda every time and call out each other if we see each other being ageist,” she said.

Despite an ever-increasing ageing population – currently there are an estimated 4.4 million Australians aged 65-plus, a figure set to double by 2060 – “Ageism is rife in the community,” said Dr Patterson.

It is, she added, as a serious prejudice as sexism or racism. “But it looks like it might be more easily shifted than those.”

There are several ways in which ageism is expressed, including:

  • against ourselves
  • between individuals
  • on an institutional level.    

Institutions such as aged care. “We saw what was happening in aged care through the royal commission,” said Dr Patterson. “The royal commission actually indicated that a lot of that was to do with ageism – it was underlying the mistreatment and neglect, and sometimes just oversight.”

As the report’s authors note, ageism can have serious consequences for older people’s health and wellbeing.

Ageism among aged care and community workers is a particularly serious concern, they added, due to its potential to directly impact the health, wellbeing and quality of life of the older adults they support.

While often benevolent, ageist behaviour includes using condescending language, offering unwanted help, and treating older people as if they are incompetent.

Dr Patterson told AAA that most people were unaware they were being ageist. “You go along with this prejudice that you don’t even realise you’re harbouring,” she said.

In conclusion, the report’s authors suggest awareness training be expanded beyond the aged care and community sectors to other workplace settings.

“While the workshop was designed to target workers in aged care and community settings, participants suggested it could be adapted and expanded to benefit a broad range of individuals, such as young people, those working in customer service, health professionals, public servants and policymakers, as well as older adults themselves. The commission agrees with these suggestions.”

Patricia Sparrow

Responding to the commission’s report, Council on the Ageing Australia chief executive officer Patricia Sparrow said the research made her optimistic that ageist attitudes could change.

“The idea that simple education can help shift attitudes significantly provides real hope,” said Ms Sparrow. “If we take responsibility for ageism, Australia will be more inclusive, cohesive and prosperous. This report shows that’s not just fanciful thinking – it’s really possible.”

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Tags: ageism, australian human rights commission, cota australia, featured, kay patterson, patricia sparrow,

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