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Age discrimination and healthcare (fact sheet)

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Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, older persons have the right to be free from discrimination in health care.  This right applies to health care services and facilities including hospitals, clinics, community care access centres, long-term care facilities, home care and health care programs.

Attitudes in the health care system can impact on the level or quality of service available to older persons. Unfortunately, older adults may unfairly be seen as a drain on health care services or too time consuming and difficult to serve.  There may be a tendency for the medical system to normalize health concerns of older persons, i.e. assume a health problem is normal for a person of that age and therefore not worth treating in the same way as it would be treated if the person were younger.

Older persons have a right to the same level and quality of health care services as everyone else and negative attitudes toward older persons and misconceptions about aging should not stand in the way.

Age discrimination in health care and other services can arise as a result of age requirements that are discriminatory.  As well, the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that those who are responsible for health care services and other services to the public must take positive steps to ensure that disadvantaged persons benefit equally from those services.  This requires designing services and facilities to be inclusive and barrier-free from the start, for example by ensuring that a health clinic is accessible to older persons and persons with disabilities.  It also means taking special needs into account such as by using good communication techniques with older clients or by providing sign-language interpreters to hospital patients.

Service providers must be particularly mindful about barriers faced by some groups of older persons.  For example, older persons who do not speak English or French may have particular difficulty accessing health care information or communicating with health care providers, culturally or religiously appropriate services may be of concern to certain groups and older gay, lesbian and bisexual persons may face difficulty having their relationships recognized in long term care facilities.