“age stereotypes” can make you sick (or not)

A great post on the New York Times’s New Old Age blog, titled “Older People Become What They Think,” describes the link between health and what psychologists call “age stereotypes”: beliefs—many of them subconscious, dating back to childhood—about what it means to get older. Olders with negative stereotypes, who equated old age with becoming helpless and worthless, were less healthy and lived less long according to new research by Yale professor Becca Levy. In contrast those with positive outlooks functioned better and lived longer—and, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 44% more likely to recover from a bout of disability. Hard to imagine better evidence of the physical toll exacted by internalized ageism.

How gratifying to read that despite the lukewarm reaction of the National Institute on Aging’s deputy director, who wondered what mechanism underlies these findings, many [researchers] believe that part of the answer has to lie in tackling ageism–which is pervasive in our youth-oriented culture—early on, from earliest childhood.” The article also quotes Dana Kotter-Gruehn, a visiting assistant professor at Duke University, who notes that people of all ages must mix so that “people can experience what it means to be an older person” and stereotypes can be dispelled, which has been shown to help change people’s stereotypes about race and homosexuality.  I’m going to check out her research.

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