Ageism and Negative Perceptions About Growing Old May Be Shortening Your Own Life

Many people in the United States harbor negative thoughts, impressions, feelings, and opinions about the aging process, about the natural inevitability of growing old. A large swath of the general public maintains a myriad of misconceptions about seniors. Ageism is said to be at epidemic proportions in the U.S.A. Often overlooked is the stark reality that ageism is harmful to older individuals and detrimental (physically, emotionally, and mentally) to those who embrace these negative perceptions. In this article, we provide a summary of research findings regarding the impact of ageist attitudes on those individuals that espouse those negative concepts and misperceptions associated with growing old.

Demographics of Ageism and Negative Senior Stereotypes

Research about ageism and negative senior stereotypes has focused on the demographics of these issues. In the United States, except for the Black American community, every ethnic and racial demographic in the country scores what researchers consider high when harboring or supporting negative or inaccurate stereotypes regarding seniors.

In this article, we specifically take on the results of research regarding ageism and negative senior stereotypes regarding several topical areas:

  • Negative senior stereotypes and heart attack risk
  • Negative senior stereotypes and full recovery from severe disability
  • Negative senior stereotypes and memory decline
  • Threat of senior stereotypes and dementia
  • Negative senior stereotypes and morbidity rate

In this article, we also take a moment to discuss seniors and the availability of geriatrics specialists in the medical community. We hope that armed with this information, if you currently have negative thoughts about seniors or harbor ageism, you will consider your thoughts closely and how they might negatively impact your life.

Negative Senior Stereotypes and Heart Attack Risk

If you are a person who harbors negative thoughts about growing older or about senior citizens more generally, you may negatively impact your heart health. You read that correctly: If you hold ageist attitudes or negative ideas about being a senior, you put yourself at a greater risk for a heart attack.

Research studies reveal that 25 percent of people with negative stereotypes of seniors had heart attacks. This is contrasted with people who do not harbor such negative opinions. 13 percent of individuals with positive attitudes about aging and seniors suffered heart attacks. This represents an almost two-to-one variation between individuals with negative versus positive mindsets about seniors and the aging process.

Negative Senior Stereotypes and Full Recovery From Severe Disability

Interestingly, men and women with a positive attitude about aging and seniors were 44 percent more likely to recover from a severe disability than those individuals who maintained ageist opinions or negative viewpoints about seniors and growing older. A research study looked at what appears to be a correlation between positive thoughts about aging and the ability to recover from a more challenging medical condition like a serious disability.

Negative Senior Stereotypes and Memory Decline

Negative senior stereotypes also appear to impact a person’s memory. Specifically, research indicates that individuals who are heavily negatively critical of seniors and aging are demonstrated to have a more significant decline in their memories. Researchers report that people with ageist attitudes or negative views of seniors suffered a 30 percent greater memory decline 40 years after these negative perceptions were identified than people who did not harbor such ageist perceptions.

Threat of Senior Stereotypes and Dementia

We just discussed the impact ageism could have on people who harbor these misplaced negative thoughts regarding their own risk of memory declines. The threat of senior stereotypes can also impact the risk of dementia – both for individuals who harbor ageist thoughts and those who are targets of ageism.

A study with a small number of participants considered individuals who took a cognitive test to determine if they might be at risk for dementia. When a negative senior stereotype threatened those individuals, 70 percent scored in the dementia range. However, when study participants were not under a senior negative stereotype threat, only 14 percent scored in the dementia range.

Negative Senior Stereotypes and Morbidity Rate

The results of another study on negative senior stereotypes harbored by an individual are particularly alarming. Individuals with positive self-perceptions about aging live 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions about aging. This stunning data set underscores the vital importance of cultivating positive thoughts about age and aging. Frankly, your very life may depend upon it.

Seniors and the Availability of Geriatric Specialists

Finally, in this discussion of ageism and its impact, a note about the availability of geriatric is worth noting. At this juncture, there are only about 7,600 certified geriatric physicians in the United States today.

With the last Baby Boomers entering their Golden Years, the aging population is rapidly increasing. The stark reality is that by 2030, the number of geriatric medicine specialists required to meet demand in the United States will be around 36,000.

Currently, only 10 percent of U.S. medical schools require students to work in geriatric medicine. That level must change, and immediately so, for there even to be a remote chance that some gaps between 7,600 existing certified geriatric physicians and the 36,000 thought to be needed in a bit over seven years can be closed.

In closing, if you are interested in consulting with a specialist in geriatric medicine, your primary healthcare provider should be able to make a referral for you. Although a geriatric physician may not be your primary care doctor, this type of physician can provide you with a comprehensive assessment.