Don’t fall for these two common stereotypes about elderly healthcare consumers
In many science fiction stories—in books, on the big screen and at least once in an episode of Star Trek—societies consider the elderly disposable. While these dystopian scenarios remain fictional, ageism is all too real—and it even happens in healthcare settings.
Over a span of four years, more than 6,000 Americans age 50 and older participated in a Health and Retirement Study, and researchers found that 20 percent had experienced ageism in their healthcare interactions. But ageism isn’t only insulting to older adults. The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, concluded that ageism can lead to a negative health impact.
Are you guilty of stereotyping elderly healthcare consumers? Psychographic segmentation can help you avoid such pitfalls with elderly patients and give them better care.
Developing an Effective—Not Ageist—Approach to Senior Care
Healthcare providers aren’t the only ones who fall prey to ageist stereotypes. Many people who would be shocked by overtly racist or sexist stereotypes find ageist stereotypes laughable. Over-the-hill birthday cards, jokes about grumpy old men and forgetful old women, ads that make light of their prowess with technology—elderly healthcare consumers are exposed to an on-going barrage of ageism.
Numerous psychological studies suggest the elderly internalize those stereotypes to their own detriment. “Ageism has real mental and physical health consequences, including a decreased will to live, less desire to live a healthy lifestyle, an impaired recovery from illness, increased stress and a shortened life span,” notes a Covering Health blog.
By avoiding stereotypes of the elderly, healthcare providers can also help their senior patients distance themselves from the stereotypes as well. Let’s look at the most common misconceptions about elderly healthcare consumers.
1. Older Adults Avoid the Latest Technology
As we indicated in a previous post, elderly healthcare consumers are embracing technology more than ever. In the Covering Health blog, California State University psychology professor Todd Nelson, Ph.D., suggests that healthcare care providers may avoid recommending technology-based tools for health management due to the mistaken belief that older patients will be resistant to them.
Given that an AARP study found 85 to 90 percent of seniors want to age in place—and that the use of at-home health monitoring technology can help elderly healthcare consumers achieve that goal—understanding which patients are good candidates for technology helps ensure higher success rates.
"When you treat patients like a number, you run risks.”
When hospitals and other healthcare organizations utilize the c2b solutions Consumer Classifier, it enables them to use a simple, 12-question survey to segment patients into five unique psychographic segments. This level of segmentation enables healthcare providers to gain insights into patients beyond their age or diagnosis to understand what influences their attitudes and motivates their behaviors when it comes to health and wellness. And, in the process, it can help healthcare providers identify which patients are most likely to value senior care technology. The distribution among the five segments differs across age groups, with an overdevelopment among Direction Takers and Self Achievers in the oldest range, and an under-representation among Willful Endurers.
Psychographic Segmentation Distribution Across Senior Age Ranges
Each psychographic segment utilizes technology to a different extent, but the majority of seniors use some form of technology on a consistent basis. The following table is from the c2b Consumer Diagnostic, a national study on healthcare attitudes and behaviors, which shows technology use among healthcare consumers on Medicare across the five psychographic segments. Note, only 1 to 3 percent of these Medicare members have not used some form of technology, with up to three quarters owning and using a desktop computer.
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On average, half of Medicare members have visited health-oriented websites, though the Priority Juggler and Direction Taker segments are less likely to do so. Note, certain websites are more likely to be visited by specific psychographic segments; for example, Balance Seekers are the most likely to visit MayoClinic.com and Self Achievers are more likely to visit AARP.com. The c2b Consumer Diagnostic looked at healthcare consumer visits to nearly thirty different health-oriented websites.
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Seniors across psychographic segments do have an opportunity to adopt health and fitness apps on smartphones (recognizing that fewer than half of respondents in the c2b Consumer Diagnostic indicated they have smartphones). The vast majority have not used health and fitness apps, though two psychographic segments—Self Achievers and Willful Endurers—are more likely to indicate usage of these apps. Nearly 70 of the leading health and fitness apps were included in the c2b Consumer Diagnostic, though not one of these apps were used by more than 7 percent of each psychographic segment.
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2. Aging Leads to Declining Health
This is a trap that both physicians and patients fall into quite often. Gerontologist Mark Lachs, author of Treat Me, Not My Age, shared his thoughts with AARP, saying: “Patients should feel that their doctor is leaving no stone unturned, that complaints are being fairly adjudicated, and that someone is really thinking about their issues. No ailment should ever be written off as an ‘old age’ ailment. Treating patients based on their age means you can miss very significant, treatable situations.” He continued: “In my practice I have 90-year-olds who go to work every single day, and I also have 50-year-olds with multiple sclerosis who are bedridden. When you treat patients like a number, you run risks.”
Patients, too, may avoid visiting a doctor because they chalk up symptoms to the inevitable effects of aging. Hospitals can leverage psychographic segmentation to gain awareness into what drives patients to visit—or avoid—the doctor. This allows healthcare providers to fine-tune patient engagement communications to address patients’ own misconceptions. For example, the psychographic segment known as Willful Endurers tend to put off visiting the doctor unless absolutely necessary, and may need encouragement to come in, especially if they are older and assume their complaints are related to age.
By keeping these common stereotypes of the elderly in mind—and using psychographic segmentation to better understand elderly healthcare consumers—hospitals and other healthcare providers can ensure that they provide senior care that enhances the quality of their patients’ lives.