Changing Ageist Attitudes May Lengthen Life

Negative stereotypes and ageism that surrounds older adults can have an impact not only on emotional health, but studies have found that seniors who have a positive outlook on aging recover from illness or injury better and are less likely to experience depression and anxiety.  They also experience fewer signs of dementia and live longer.   And although efforts are being made to change negative ideas about getting older, can attitudes about aging be altered in the long term?

Becca Levy, professor of Public Health and Psychology at the Yale School of Public Health has been researching attitudes on aging for the past several decades and has found that positive attitudes about aging held by a society influence the aging process; feelings of stress about aging can actually speed up the process.  But those who are less influenced by negative stereotypes around them tend to enjoy a healthier old age and are more inclined to stay physically active, pay attention to a healthy diet and remain socially and cognitively engaged. 

Ageism not only influences public attitudes towards seniors, according to a recent New York Times report, stereotyping and discrimination based on age can also affect policies.  Studies of interventions to alter these ageist attitudes have found that programs designed to combat myths about aging can have a positive effect, especially when programs combine education with intergenerational interaction.  And although even young children may have ideas that stereotype older adults, with interventions, attitudes can be altered and hopefully over time, policies that support seniors will be preserved or implemented.  

Older adults themselves also need to be part of the change if society is to overcome ageism.  Mindset has a great deal to do with how well we age.  If older adults embrace an age-positive attitude, rather than a fear of aging, they will likely have not only a longer life on average, it will be a happier one.  

Learn more about how attitudes about aging can increase longevity by an average of 7.5 years by following this link to research out of Yale University and the University of Miami published in the journal of the American Psychological Association.