The attitudes that people have about ageing have been shown to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing in later life. An interesting study focused on the impact of internalised ageism on feelings of loneliness and dependency.
The research found that exposure to a negative ageing-stereotype increased self-reported loneliness compared to a positive ageing-stereotype or a control condition. Additionally, participants were more risk averse in the negative age-stereotype condition than in the positive age-stereotype or control condition. The results highlight that the mere activation of negative stereotypes can cause older people to adopt a condition that is reminiscent of dependent states, where they complain about their loneliness but remain passive, avoiding any behavioural initiative or risk taking.
A second aspect of the research showed that priming ageing stereotypes influenced health perception and extraversion, with participants in the negative condition declaring being in a more deteriorated state of health and describing themselves as less extraverted than their counterparts in the positive stereotype condition. A crucial finding of this part of the research was the fact that stereotype priming impacts older people’s help-seeking behaviour. More specifically, a negative age-stereotype priming increased help-seeking compared to a positive age stereotype priming.
The researchers concluded that the implications of their findings were straightforward – “The mere activation of a negative stereotype leads older individuals to feel lonely, to depreciate their health status, to avoid taking any risks and to systematically seek for help in their social environment. These effects are similar to those symptoms that are frequently encountered in an institutionalized context of enhanced dependency.”
The research can be accessed here.
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.
Meaning and purpose can be severely challenged in later life as society generally fails to perceive older people as having a meaningful role to play. New research has added to the growing body of evidence to suggest that having a strong sense of meaning and purpose plays a very significant part in wellbeing in later life. The study looked at the phenomenon of ‘generativity’ – the concern with giving to others or leaving a legacy. It tested whether greater self perceptions of generativity were linked to feelings of connectedness, self worth, and positive emotions. They compared those people who felt they had achieved their desired level of generativity in life with those who felt that they had failed to meet their expectations.
Higher ratings of perceived contributions to the welfare of others were associated with greater current and future propensity to experience positive emotions and interact with others and with life’s challenges in a positive way. It was also associated with greater self worth and life satisfaction. Contributing to the wellbeing of others is therefore indicated as an important dimension of ageing positively. Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life is critical to health and wellbeing in later life.
For the full research paper click here