Ageist attitudes linked to worse health in older people

·1-min read

The saying 'You're only as old as you feel' can lead to shorter, sadder and unhealthier lives for older people who accept negative beliefs about ageing.

A University of Queensland study has linked exposure to ageist attitudes to a shorter life, poorer health, and declining mental ability.

Professor Julie Henry, who led the school of psychology study, said older people were regularly exposed to negative assumptions about their worth, capacity or level of understanding, as well as jokes about their age.

"At the same time, as we grow older, we rely more strongly on prior knowledge and cues from our environment to guide how we feel, think and behave," she said.

"In a world that devalues ageing, these cognitive changes make it more difficult for older people to challenge internalised ageist beliefs, known as self-directed ageism."

Professor Henry said when ageism was internalised, it was linked to a shorter lifespan, poorer physical and mental health, slower recovery from disability, and cognitive decline.

It could also be harmful when older adults allowed their negative beliefs about ageing to undermine their confidence to take on new experiences, she said.

"Interventions, such as creating more opportunities for positive social interactions between younger and older people, are needed to prevent negative views of ageing from developing in the first place," Prof Henry said.

"Our research also suggests that older adults will benefit directly from a reduction in cues to ageism in our wider social environment.

"If fewer ageist cues attract older people's attention, the risk of self-directed ageism should be reduced."

The study is published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

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