Challenging negative stereotypes about ageing

Learn more about why negative stereotypes about the older generation are often unfounded and can lead to poorer physical and cognitive health outcomes for older people.

Negative stereotypes about aging can be damaging to older people’s sense of self and, perhaps surprisingly, their physical health too.

Join us as we look at how negative stereotypes about ageing are often unfounded, and why more steps should be taken to correct them.

Common stereotypes about ageing: Perception vs reality

Some age-related stereotypes are positive, such as the kindly grandparent or wise matriarch. However, in Western culture especially, most of these stereotypes are negative.

Getting older will undoubtedly result in physiological and social changes, but – as research published in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) indicates – many of these aging stereotypes are significantly overplayed:

Negative stereotype Expectation of 18 – 64-year- olds  Experience of people aged 65+
Memory loss 57% 25%
Unable to drive 45% 14%
Serious illness 42% 21%
Sexually inactive 34% 21%
Depression or sadness 29% 20%
Not feeling needed 29% 9%
Loneliness 29% 17%
Trouble paying bills 24% 16%
Being a burden 24% 10%

Not only are these stereotypes significantly over-emphasised, there are many areas in which older people actually have a better quality of life than their younger counterparts:

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People tend to feel younger as they get older. 61% of 65 – 74-year-olds feel younger than they are, as well as 57% of people aged 75+.

Mood, relationships, well-being, knowledge and certain forms of intelligence can also be enhanced by age.

This research demonstrates how negative stereotypes about ageing aren’t only held by young people, but also people in middle and later life.

How can stereotypes about age harm individuals

According to numerous studies, perceiving ageing in terms of just disability or decline leads to poorer physical health outcomes.

Becca Levy, associate professor at Yale School of Public Health, quoted in the Wall Street Journal article above, went as far as describing negative stereotypes about ageing as “a public health issue”.

Regardless of medical history, education level, or socioeconomic status, people with negative perceptions of ageing have been found to have:

  • Higher rates of cardiac disease.
  • A median life expectancy that’s 7.5 years shorter.
  • Less chance of recovering from severe disability.
  • Poorer memory and cognition.
  • Lower quality diet and exercise regimes.
  • Less inclination to take medication as instructed.
  • Shakier handwriting.

Having identified these effects, psychologists, neuroscientists, and cognitive therapists have begun identifying strategies to overcome these negative stereotypes and improve the overall health of older people.

Education for all is key to removing these stereotypes. Techniques including those used to treat depression, combat race/gender bias, and remove addictive behaviour have all proved effective at nullifying these stereotypes. Educational treatment even works when used subliminally.

Not only does this alleviate many of the negative health-related factors outlined above, studies have also indicated long-term improvements in self-image, strength, and balance.

Negative stereotypes about ageing have been shown to be inaccurate, and damaging from both a physical and cognitive perspective. Ageing is a natural experience that we all face; by changing the way we think and feel about this experience, we can all live healthier, happier lives.

Find out how live-in care can help your loved one maintain a high quality of life in their own home for longer. Get in touch with our friendly team.

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