Attributing illness to ‘old age’ increases risk of mortality

The dissemination of stereotypical beliefs about ageing have led to endorsement of the myth that ‘to be old is to be ill.’ This negative stereotype can have very concerning effects on health and longevity.

An interesting piece of research examined older people’s beliefs about the causes of their chronic illness (ie, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) and tested the hypothesis that attributing the onset of illness to ‘old age’ is associated with negative health outcomes. A series of multiple regressions (controlling for chronological age, gender, income, severity of chronic conditions, functional status and health locus of control) demonstrated that ‘old age’ attributions were associated with more frequent perceived health symptoms, poorer health maintenance behaviours and a greater likelihood of mortality at 2-year follow-up. The probability of death was more than double among participants who strongly endorsed the ‘old age’ attribution as compared to those who did not (36% vs. 14%).

The findings are further evidence of the toxic impact of internalised negative stereotypes about ageing and should be considered as an important component of interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of older people.

The research can be found by clicking here.