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Contemp Nurse. 2007 Oct;26(2):225-37.

The negative attitudes of nurses towards older patients in the acute hospital setting: a qualitative descriptive study.

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  • 1School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle NSW, Australia.



This paper reports the findings of a sub-sample of interviews from a larger study designed to explore the attitudes of health care workers towards older people in that acute care setting. The discussion in this paper focuses only on interviews with nurses and their negative attitudes towards older people in their care.


As Australia's ageing population continues to grow exponentially, their demand for hospital care also increases. Many nurses in the acute care setting have had little, if any, specialist education in the care of older people and therefore do not understand the extent of their needs. Coupled with the lack of specialist knowledge is the low status of older person care in this setting. Many nurses prefer to care for younger patients with acute illnesses that are curable (Nay 1993 in Nay & Garratt 2004: 61). As with the population at large, health care professionals hold negative views about old age and this is reflected in their attitudes.


The findings presented in this paper focus on data analysed from in depth interviews with nurses. As a prompt to discussions, nurses were presented with scenarios that exemplified both positive and negative attitudes to care. However, much of what was discussed in interviews focused on negative attitudes. Interviews with medical and allied health staff will be reported in a separate paper.


The analysis of data with nurses reveals two themes and subthemes. 'Marginalisation and oppression of the older person' shows the ways in which nurses perceive older people are relegated to a lower status in the acute care setting, how this is 'contagious' and how 'lack of time' for care for older people is problematic and has become their 'catchcry'.'Stereotyping the older person' depicts some of the ways in which this evolves, for example, through 'Chinese Whispers' (UsingEnglish.com 2006), but has become part of the ageist culture.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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