Ireland’s population is set to expand rapidly in the coming decades. Connell and Pringle (2004) predict the total population of Ireland is to rise between a low of 4.57 million and a high of 4.91 million by 2021.Of this rising population, between 34.3 and 38.7 percent will be said to be over 65 years of age. These are startling figures, so there is no room for the issue that is termed ageism. Ageism and its debilitating consequences are, at present, worryingly prominent in Ireland. The purpose of this assignment is to discuss the concept of ageism and its history, discussing probable causes and its implications to older people, nursing practice, healthcare and society. The author looks at the research that has been carried out by state organisations in an attempt to discover how prevalent ageism is in today’s ‘modern’ world, and reviews various relevant literature that is significant to nursing practice. This topic is of personal and professional interest, as the author is currently employed in a long-stay unit that specifically specialises in care of the older adult. It is within this setting that the author was made aware ageism, proving a fact that will be discussed later, that one of the key strategies in tackling ageism in nursing practice is by creating awareness through education. By this and other means, it is hoped to create a more positive nurturing environment, free of ageism, for Ireland’s population to age and grow in. The Author will proceed to discuss ageism in greater detail.
The concept of ageism was defined for the first time in 1969 by Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Ageing in the United States (Miller, 2004). There are many definitions in various literatures, but in essence, these definitions amass to what Butler (1980: 8) defines as “the prejudices and stereotypes that are applied to older people sheerly on the basis of their chronological age”. Defined this way, negative attitudes towards people because they are young would also qualify as ageism, as Nelson (2002) points out. However, for the purpose of this assignment, the term ageism will refer specifically to prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviour towards older adults. Older adults themselves, may hold these prejudicial attitudes and be in denial that they are growing older (Minichiello, Browne and Kendig,2000), but for the most part, Nelson(2002), argues that ageism allows younger people to disassociate themselves from growing older and that it is regarded as an undesirable process. Some historians and Gerontologists view ageism as an outcome of modernisation (Miller, 2004).According to O’Neill and O’Keefe (2003), in pre- Christian Irish civilisation, a system of laws, known as Brehon laws, supported a strong tradition of holding older people in high regard. With colonization by the Normans in the 12th century, these laws fell into disuse, and care of older people was probably of the same non-specific nature as practised in the rest of Europe. During the potato famine a series of Work Houses were built. These became the basis for state-funded institutionalized care of older people until the latter part of the 20th century. Nelson (2005) also suggests that attitudes towards older people began to shift with two major developments in civilisation. Firstly, the advent of the printing press meant that the status and power older people had diminished as did their role of historians. Secondly, the dawning of the industrial revolution, which demanded great mobility in families to go where jobs were, created a shift in attitudes towards older people. The history or cause of ageism has been explored by many writers, but as Palmore (2001) proposes, ageism is as prominent and as established as racism and sexism. Palmore also states that ageism differs from sexism and racism in two ways. Firstly, potentially all people are liable to be treated in an ageist fashion if one is reach old age. Secondly, ageist...
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