Dr. Sarah Fraser is an Associate Professor in the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa. Using a variety of methods, she investigates factors that influence cognitive aging. She is particularly interested in what goes on in the brain when people are multitasking and how tracking brain activity with portable technology might identify older adults at risk of cognitive decline. In addition, since stigma can influence health and cognitive decline, part of her program of research explores stereotypical perceptions of aging and their influence on older adults. She is currently the co-lead of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging: Social Inclusion and Stigma Group (https://ccna-ccnv.ca/social-inclusion-and-stigma/). Dr. Fraser is also a member of the Life Research Institute, Bruyère Research Institute and the Brain and Mind Institute.
Perspectives on ageism during COVID-19: What was said and done?
Dr. Juanita-Dawne Bacsu is a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Megan E. O’Connell and the Rural Dementia Action Research (RaDAR) Team at the University of Saskatchewan. She has been a research associate with the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit since 2009, and a board member with the Canadian Rural Health Research Society since 2011. Prior to this, she was a senior communications manager for the provincial government and co-owned a family medicine clinic. Her research interests include dementia, cognitive health promotion, rural health, health policy, and age-friendly environments.
Dr. Martine Lagacé is a Professor at the Department of Communication and is affiliated with the School of Psychology. Professor Lagacé has contributed greatly to the advancement of knowledge on the psychosocial aspects of aging, particularly as they relate to discrimination based on age. She has led several field surveys in Canada and abroad, with workers as well as older patients to better understand the impact of age-based discrimination. She has also edited two books on the topic of ageism and regularly publishes articles in academic journals, in both official languages. Professor Lagacé has contributed to several organizations, including the National Seniors Council, the Institut du savoir Montfort and the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal.
Lauren Bechard is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration and Aging trainee member, and Alzheimer Society of Canada doctoral scholar. With her supervisor Dr. Laura Middleton, Lauren studies how lifestyle factors support dementia prevention and living well with dementia. Ageism and stigma towards persons living with dementia are common factors affecting participation in and access to health promotion. To explore this further, Lauren has conducted research on age differences in perceptions, health beliefs, and health behaviours related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Alison Chasteen is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Dr. Chasteen is a social psychologist with specialized training in aging who studies prejudice, stereotyping, and stigma from both the perceiver’s and the target’s perspective. She and her team investigate a number of prejudices, including biases based on age, gender, race, sexuality, and religious view, as well as the intersections of many of these identities. With respect to aging, Chasteen and her collaborators have been examining people’s experiences of aging and ageism and investigating ways to counteract stereotype-based views of aging in older adults.
Sarah Fraser, University of Ottawa, Canada
Juanita-Dawne Bacsu, University of Saskatchewan, Canada
Martine Lagacé, University of Ottawa, Canada
Lauren Bechard, University of Waterloo, Canada
Alison L. Chasteen, University of Toronto, Canada
Treating or perceiving a person differently based on their age is considered ageism. While this is not a new concept, ageism emerges in different contexts, through different media platforms, and can influence various aspects of an older adults’ life (i.e., their health, their social participation, life satisfaction). Several publications during the COVID-19 pandemic have identified ageism as a “global challenge” and emphasized the multiplicative impact of ageism during the crisis situation of COVID-19.
This symposium highlights recent research about ageism and COVID-19 from social media, news media, and across age groups. How we discuss older adults, how older adults are perceived, and how they perceive themselves during COVID-19 has important implications for policy, awareness, and the health of older adults.
We will begin by presenting a social media analysis of how older adults with and without dementia are tweeted about during COVID-19. Then building on what has been said in social media, we will present two studies that critically analyzed the discourse on older adults during COVID-19 in the Québec and Canadian news media. As the media is not the only source of ageist attitudes, our fourth presenter will discuss how different age groups perceived their own and each other’s actions and risk during COVID-19, as well as how health beliefs and perceptions influence health behaviors during COVID-19. Finally, we will conclude with a study that asked older adults about their perceptions of ageism before and during the pandemic and found that pandemic-era perceived ageism was no more predictive of subjective health and life satisfaction during the pandemic than pre-pandemic perceived ageism.
We look forward to involving the audience in discussion on the intersection of ageism and COVID-19 in various contexts and the implications of this in the lives of older adults.
Presenter #1, Juanita-Dawne Bacsu
Ageism and stigma of dementia during COVID-19: An analysis of Twitter data
Juanita-Dawne Bacsu, Megan E. O’Connell, Sarah Fraser, Alison Chasteen, Lauren E. Bechard, Jennifer Bethell, Allison Cammer, Shoshana Green, Karl Grewal, Kathy McGilton, Debra Morgan, Hannah O’Rourke, Lisa Poole
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated issues of ageism and stigma against people living with dementia. However, few studies explore these issues, especially within the context of the pandemic. Using Twitter data, the objective of this study was to examine ageism and stigma against people with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tweets were collected on Twitter using the GetOldTweets application in Python from February 15 to September 7, 2020. Search terms included keywords for dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s, etc.) and COVID-19 (e.g., coronavirus, etc.). From the 20,800 tweets, filters were used to exclude irrelevant tweets. The remaining 5,063 tweets were analyzed by a group of coders with 1,743 tweets identified for further stigma-related coding. The 1,743 tweets were exported to Excel for thematic analysis and divided among 13 coders for analysis. Each tweet was coded independently by two reviewers to support intercoder reliability. Stigmatizing tweets were identified with themes such as devaluing the lives of people with dementia (e.g., dying anyways), blaming people with dementia for societal issues (e.g., COVID-19 economy), and political dementia-related references (e.g., dementia Joe). Our findings suggest that there is a critical need for dementia education and awareness to reduce dementia-related stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Presenter #2, Sarah Fraser
What was said in the Québec media about older adults in residences or long-term care homes before and during COVID-19?
Sarah Fraser & Olivia Archambault
The treatment of older adults and the lives lost during COVID-19 was the focus of many media stories during the first wave (March-June 2020). The goal of this discourse analysis was to examine the Québec media’s portrayal of older adults living in long-term care homes (LTC) before and during the first wave of COVID-19. French language newspapers were searched on May 13th, 2020 for articles containing the terms: older adults, LTC, residence. Articles from 3 months before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Québec to 3 months after were targeted. Selected articles had to include one of the type of residences in Québec and health/quality of life outcomes of older adults. After full text screening, 208 articles were retained, coded and themes pre and peri-Covid 19 examined. Lack of resources in the care homes (i.e., insufficient staff) and negative health outcomes for older adults (i.e., bed sores) emerged pre and peri-COVID-19. Negative and positive elements emerged from the peri-COVID-19 discourse, including: increased social isolation, government action (i.e., improving policies) and advocacy (by health care practitioners and family). Existing systemic problems were exacerbated by the pandemic, but the peri-Covid 19 discourse suggests meaningful change to improve outcomes for future generations.
Presenter #3, Martine Lagacé
The media narrative of vulnerability in times of pandemic: A Catalyst for Ageism?
Martine Lagacé, Pascale Dangoisse, Caroline Bergeron & Amélie Doucet
Public discourse on aging are powerful channels in shaping how one perceives older adults and aging as a process, one’s own and other’s. The current study had a two-fold goal: 1) analyze representations of aging and older adults in the Canadian media during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic; assess if and the extent to which such representations may have exacerbated ageist beliefs and attitudes. To do so, a qualitative and quantitative media content analysis of 263 Francophone and Anglophone Canadian newspaper articles published from January to June 2020, was conducted. Findings suggest that media have discussed aging mostly as a decline process and portrayed older adults in terms of their vulnerability, positioning them as victims of the pandemic. Interestingly, older adults who made their voice heard in the media, criticized ageist attitudes but inadvertently contributed to a generational divide between the “healthy” and the “frail” older adults, precisely those living in long-term care homes. Findings are discussed in light of the Stereotype Content Model as well as the concept of Compassionate Ageism.
Presenter #4, Lauren Bechard
Using the Health Belief Model to Understand Age Differences in Perceptions and Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Lauren Bechard, Maximillian Bergelt, Bobby Neudorf, Tamara C. DeSouza, & Laura E. Middleton
Health, economic, and social risks with COVID-19 differ by age group. Using a survey based on the Health Belief Model (HBM), we examined how perceived COVID-19 susceptibility and severity and perceived efficacy of health behaviors varied by age group and were related to adoption of health behaviors. Relationships between age group and perceived COVID-19 susceptibility, severity, impact, and health behavior efficacy and adoption was examined with proportional odds logistic regression. Structural equation modeling based on HBM constructs examined relationships between health beliefs and behaviors. 820 participants were included (age: 42.7, 16.2 years; 79% women). Middle-aged and older adults reported greater concern about COVID-19 health risk (e.g., hospitalization, mortality), economic impact, and social impact than young adults. With few exceptions, health behaviour adoption and perceived efficacy were similar across age groups. Middle-aged and older-adults were more likely to perceive responses of their own and each other’s age group’s as adequate compared to young adults. Perceived benefits of health behaviors were the primary driver of behavior uptake. Socioeconomic factors and perceived severity and susceptibility acted indirectly through their influence on perceived benefits. These results suggest health behavior adoption is high across age groups, despite different beliefs about responses by age group.
Presenter #5, Alison L. Chasteen
Comparing older adults’ perceptions of ageism before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: Implications for mental and physical health
Alison L. Chasteen, April Pereira, Maria Iankilevitch, Manfred Diehl, & M. Kathleen Pichora-Fuller
Ageism existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but we know relatively little about the psychological and physical effects of ageism that older people may have experienced during the pandemic. One recent investigation (Kornadt et al., 2021) found that experiences of ageism during the pandemic were associated with lower health and life satisfaction. In the present study, we investigated if such associations generalize to other samples using different measures. Unlike previous studies, by controlling for pre-pandemic levels of the constructs, we could pinpoint the degree to which pandemic-era experiences of ageism specifically predicted well-being in older people. Both prior to and during the pandemic, 117 older adults completed measures of perceived ageism, self-perceptions of aging, subjective age, subjective health and life satisfaction. When controlling for pre-pandemic measures, we found perceived ageism during the pandemic did not predict subjective health or life satisfaction during the same period. When we did not control for pre-pandemic scores, however, we found pandemic-era perceived ageism did predict lower pandemic-era subjective health and life satisfaction. Our findings suggest a need for caution when interpreting associations among variables measured during the pandemic, as those relationships may not differ from effects of ageism that existed before the coronavirus outbreak.