Negative Views of Old Age Translate to Poorer Health

Jun 5, 2009 by

Negative Views of Old Age Translate to Poorer Health

Do you or someone you know hold rather negative views of old age? Do you fear aging? Do you think that old folks are destined to be weak, sick and helpless?

Such viewpoints could actually have an adverse impact on one’s health later in life, as discussed in the following article. Probably something like a self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps.

Negative Views of Old Age Translate to Poorer Health

by Reuben Chow

It is often said that we are what we eat. In reality, we are what we think and feel, too. Add that to the fact that ageist mentalities are still very much prevalent today, with many holding stereotypical views of elderly persons being incompetent, helpless, or even burdens, and we have a situation whereby the vast majority of people would probably dread the thought of growing old. Now, a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science has suggested that there is a degree of self-fulfillment in such negative mindsets, having found that persons who hold negative views of older persons tend to have poorer health later on in life.

Details and Findings of Study

For the study, the researchers had looked at information on 440 men and women who had participated in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which ran for close to four decades. That aging study had commenced in 1968, at which time the study subjects were all healthy and aged between 18 and 49. As part of the study, various information on the subjects, including their health records as well as their views about the elderly, were collected.

The study team unveiled a strong association between ageism and poorer cardiovascular health later in life. Three decades after the commencement of the Baltimore study, 25% of the persons who held lowly views of old age, associating it with weakness or helplessness, had been struck by a heart condition or stroke. On the other hand, of those with positive views of old age, only 13% had been affected.

Mindsets When Young Impact Health Later On in Life

Previous research had already drawn a link between older persons who have negative ideas of old age and their tendency to meet them. Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health, was the leader of this latest study. She had previously also led studies which looked at negative attitudes on old age.

In one particular study she led, which was published in Journals of Gerontology in 2006, it was found that older persons who held negative stereotypes about elderly persons were more likely to suffer from hearing decline. But what is significant here is that even ageist attitudes early in life translate to poorer health as those who hold such views grow older. “We found that the age stereotypes, which tend to be acquired in childhood and young adulthood, and carried over into old age, seem to have far-reaching effects,” said Levy.

Zooming in, the researchers looked at a group of study subjects who did not suffer any heart issues until they had passed 60 years old, which was at least 21 years after the start of the Baltimore study. The study team found that these persons were likely to have held negative views about old age from their younger years. There was no obvious explanation found for this increased risk of cardiovascular conditions, not even a host of other possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, family history, education levels or depression. According to the study team, the implication of this finding is that people begin internalizing stereotypes of old age from an early age, and these viewpoints come back to haunt them, so to speak, many years later.

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