Negative stereotypes trigger loneliness & dependency in older people

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.