Oct. 21 Web Event: Confronting Ageism in Health Care: A Conversation for Patients, Caregivers and Clinicians

The covid pandemic has provided more visibility for longstanding ageist attitudes and practices that run through the health care system, at times undermining the care and well-being of older adults in this country.

KFF’s Kaiser Health News and The John A. Hartford Foundation held a 90-minute interactive web event on ageism in health care — a frank, practical and empowering conversation about this pervasive, systemic problem of bias, discrimination or stereotyping based on age — on Oct. 21, 2021.

What does ageism in health care look like? It can be a thoughtless quip that makes an older person feel diminished. Or an assumption that patients are unable to follow a conversation or make their own decisions. Maybe it occurs when a concern is voiced, then discounted or dismissed.

Ageism is reflected in care strategies that ignore a patient’s values and ideas about what constitutes a productive life. Too often, attitudes such as “these patients are old and near the end anyway” or “there’s not much we can do to help them” prevail.

The impact of ageism is not new, but the pandemic brought it to view in shocking fashion. In its early days, the virus was shrugged off as something of concern mostly to older people, with some arguing they were expendable if the alternative was shutting down the U.S. economy. In the grave months that followed, many who died in nursing care were dehumanized in news reports that showed body bags piled outside facilities. In the end, about 80 percent of those who died from covid were older adults, including nearly 140,000 nursing home residents — a population beset by understaffing, inadequate infection control and neglect.

Older adults trying to stay healthy at home faced their own challenges: isolation, a lack of support from community groups, challenges in accessing care via telehealth and sign-up systems for covid vaccines that were overly complicated or confusing.

Judith Graham, Navigating Aging columnist for Kaiser Health News, moderated a panel of experts to offer their guidance and insights.

Rani Snyder, Vice President, Program at The John A. Hartford Foundation made introductory remarks.


Dr. Louise Aronson, a geriatrician, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “Elderhood.”

Dr. Michael Wasserman, a geriatrician, advocate for vulnerable older adults through the Covid-19 pandemic, and leader of the public policy committee of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine.

Dr. Javette Orgain, a family physician, medical director for Longevity Health Plan of Illinois, which serves nursing home residents. Former president of the National Medical Association, which represents African American physicians and their patients, and former assistant dean of University of Illinois College of Medicine Urban Health Program.

Dr. Rebecca Elon, a geriatrician and current caregiver for her mother, who has dementia, and husband, who passed away during the pandemic.

Jess Mauer, a lawyer and executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, which promotes an anti-ageism pledge.


KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation. KHN receives grant funding from The John A. Hartford Foundation, among other sources, and retains full editorial control over its journalism.

The John A. Hartford Foundation

The John A. Hartford Foundation, based in New York City, is a private, nonpartisan, national philanthropy dedicated to improving the care of older adults. The leader in the field of aging and health, the Foundation has three areas of emphasis: creating age-friendly health systems, supporting family caregivers, and improving serious illness and end-of-life care.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270

www.kff.org | Email Alerts: kff.org/email | facebook.com/KFF | twitter.com/kff

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.