The singer, Cher, pointing out the double standard in the music industry once said: “I do think that when it comes to aging, we’re held to a different standard than men. Some guy said to me: ‘Don’t you think you’re too old to sing rock ’n’ roll?’ I said: ‘You’d better check with Mick Jagger.”
Beneath the witty quote, however, lies a very real cultural phenomenon. Many feminist researchers and other observers have pointed out the paradox that as men get older, they gain influence, while, as women get older we become “invisible.” Older women report annoying and everyday experiences as they age, like the fact that it takes longer to get service in a store, or that young people seem to “look right through them.” More alarmingly, older women also report having a hard time feeling “visible” within the healthcare system, where structural and individual ageism have affected our treatment and care.
This discrimination has profound implications for our health. For example, studies have shown that while the prevalence of breast cancer increases with age, older women are undertreated, left out of clinical trials and omitted from potentially life-saving surgical procedures compared to younger patients. This disturbing disparity is exacerbated when factoring in race. While older Caucasian women have seen a significant decline in mortality, their African-American counterparts over 60 years of age have faced an increase due to limited access to care, differing stages of the disease at the time of diagnosis, and biological determinants.
So what can we do to better support the treatment of aging women? Healthcare providers can adopt a more patient-centered approach tailored to their individual needs and abilities, while promoting better communication skills. Future generations of doctors and nurses can deepen their knowledge of ageism and learn how to change their attitudes towards providing treatment for the elderly.
If healthcare providers know that midlife and older women feel irrelevant, invisible, and discriminated against due to their age, they must also pay attention to their own biases when working with aging women. Researchers need to make sure that their assessment and treatment protocols are appropriately tailored. And we can all do a better job of eliminating ageist or unconscious bias in our language.
And for those of us developing medical tools and technology – like our team at MOLLI Surgical – I can only hope that our experiences and our efforts will serve as an inspiration for a bright young mind to continue to lead, innovate and create the change we hope to see for women everywhere.
Pres. & CEO at MOLLI Surgical, dedicated to bringing people together for impact in healthcare through medical devices.
What can we do to better support the treatment of aging women in #healthcare? Read my latest blog entitled, “Invisible No More – Aging Women and the Healthcare System” with MOLLI Surgical. #bcsm #BCCWW #patientcenteredcare #patientcare #breastcancer #medtwitter #medicalinnovation #healthequity #racialdisparities