“Ageism doesn’t only affect the elderly; young patients suffer from it too, and frankly, it’s tiring.”
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness at a young age comes with its challenges, of course. It is a world that at 16 years old I didn’t think I would be a part of – at least not so young. I’ve been dealing with Chronic Kidney Disease for ten years (I’m now 26 years old), and the issues that come with it, such as the side effects, pain management, and various treatments; but one of the most significant problems I’ve dealt with over the years, and still do today, is ‘Ageism’.
There have been many situations where I have told older people that I have kidney failure, and I always tend to get the same response:
“Oh, but you’re so young!”
Often we are told that certain services aren’t necessary for our age, and if we request them then the referral times tend to be longer than the general waiting period, because we are overlooked or aren’t considered as urgent as older patients in the healthcare system.
For those who do not know what ageism is, it is a form of discrimination or stereotyping against a particular age group and hell yes, we young people experience it more than you would think. It’s not a term just used for elderly patients; we as young patients are dismissed when we tell doctors or health professionals about our symptoms and health situation, and in environments that our health issues become a problem due to our young age.
I am sure that staff in hospitals don’t mean any disrespect. It’s just that healthcare professionals prejudge us already because of our age. For example, in A&E or urgent care when they look at our Date of Birth, we are suddenly more likely to deal with apparently ageist issues. Of course, young people tend to look healthier, and even those with chronic illnesses don’t always physically look sick or they may even appear to have an invisible disability, because people my age don’t typically suffer from chronic diseases as much as the elderly community.
Which brings me to the lack of research on younger patients, that tends to become an issue with medication or treatment methods, as with the studies being so heavily geared towards older adults and elderly patients; where the result from these average adult-based studies are being used to treat young patients, and then doctors are having to adjust and try different medications until they find the right dose or combination of medicines for that young patient.
Only recently this year I was a part of a research study where a paediatrician was looking into young people suffering from bone density issues and a lack of Vitamin D from dialysis, because the medicine at the time that was being given to young patients had been based on studies into adult bones. That there are these doctors and researchers addressing these inequalities, those that are conducting these kinds of studies, is just one of the many ways of battling ageism against younger patients, and giving sick young people a platform to be secure in their identity as a young chronic patient.
I was lucky to have recently received a second kidney transplant, which is currently only six weeks old, and just the experience of being the only young patient was and always has been a struggle for me. You are the only young patient on a ward filled with elderly patients, which causes a barrier, even if I have met some long-life friends who are older than me. Still, the nurses always prioritise the more senior patients, meaning that they are coming to me last, even when I am asking for help – when I’m in pain or waiting for my medication. Ageism doesn’t only affect the elderly; young patients suffer from it too, and frankly, it’s tiring.
It’s an old flawed system that is used to being judgmental towards an age group for being too young to be sick; and yet we live in a new era of young people being diagnosed more and more with chronic illness. We all need to be more mindful of coming with a prejudgment of young people who look physically able; ageism can’t be allowed to determine a young person’s disability or chronic disease.