Aging is a highly individualized and complex process; yet it continues to be stereotyped, especially in Western cultures. Stereotypes about a particular group play a powerful role in shaping how we think about and interact with individuals, as well as how individuals within the stereotyped group see themselves.
Stereotypes of aging in contemporary culture, particularly North America, are primarily negative, depicting later life as a time of ill health, loneliness, dependency, and poor physical and mental functioning. However, stereotypes of aging can also be positive (e.g., healthy, wealthy, and wise) or neutral and they are continually changing over time and across contexts. Views of old age and the perceptions older adults hold of themselves, are complex, multidimensional, and dynamic. In other words, stereotypes of aging are social constructs that are culturally and historically situated, as well as individually interpreted.
The purpose of this blog is findings on the effects of stereotypes of aging on health outcomes related to older adults, such as physical and mental functioning and overall well-being and perceived quality of life. Like any form of bias, ageism has led many of us to make false assumptions about seniors. Learn more about some of the top myths of aging.
1. Dementia is an inevitable part of aging.
The fact is Dementia should be seen as modifiable health condition and, if it occurs, should be followed as a medical condition, not a normal part of aging. In other words, if you or your loved one becomes forgetful, it could be related to medication, nutrition or modifiable medical issues.
Just consider that when doctors examined the brain of a 115-year-old woman who, when she died, was the world’s oldest woman, they found essentially normal brain tissue, with no evidence of Alzheimer’s or other dementia-causing conditions. Testing in the years before she died showed no loss in brain function. Not only is dementia not inevitable with age, but you actually have some control over whether or not you develop it.
Exercise your body and your brain. Physical activity plays a role in reducing the risk of diseases that cause Alzheimer’s. It also builds up that brain reserve. One study found just six months of regular physical activity increased brain volume in 59 healthy but couch-potato individuals ages 60 to 79. Other research finds people who exercised twice a week over an average of 21 years slashed their risk of Alzheimer’s in half.
2. If you don’t exercise today, it’s too late to start at your 70s
The fact is it’s never too late when it comes to exercise. In one of the studies found that a person doing exercise daily at any age will increase the muscles strength by 113 percent. Even more important, they also increased their walking speed, a marker of overall physical health in elderly.
3. Aging is Depressing and leads to loneliness
Contrary to the myth that aging is depressing, many studies find that seniors are among the happiest age group. Happiness levels by age follows a U-shaped curve, with self-reported levels of happiness at their lowest at age 40, but then growing thereafter. Though social isolation can be a problem for seniors, especially to those who have limited mobility, most seniors are able to stay socially engaged. Activities with family and friends and visit at places such as the local senior centres or a place of worship, also help seniors stay active and happy.
4. Aging makes you unable to adapt to new situations
Older people are not only able to adapt to new situations, they are actually experts at adapting. By the time one has become a senior, they have had to adapt to innumerable changes and transitions in life. Seniors may be slower to change their opinions, but one of the humanity’s greatest traits, adaptability, is generally retained as we grow old.
5. As your body changes with age, so does your personality.
A person’s personality stays the same throughout life, except when changes result from Alzheimer disease or other forms of dementia, stroke or other serious illness. If the person aging that doesn’t mean that his personality also gets changes only thinking or living habits may change, but this fact is also varies from person to person.
6. Aging makes you unattractive, greedy, cranky and child-like.
Stereotypes about the elderly are generally learned and internalized when we are young. They are observed throughout society and many people learn these biases directly from their parents. Young people’s viewpoints of the elderly are also formed based on their interactions with their grandparents and other seniors in their family and community. These relationships may affect their long-term perceptions of aging and overall relationships with seniors.
The film, television, beauty, fashion and music industries often portray negative senior stereotypes, especially when it comes to depicting physical characteristics. The elderly is often seen in magazines and commercials with wrinkles, stooped postures, ashen skin tones, and grey or balding hair. These negative portrayals accompanied with elderly stereotypes often lead the young to have cosmetic procedures earlier in life as a reaction to their fear of aging. Elderly stereotypes are continually reinforced when senior actors are cast as invalids, grandparents or grouchy members of the community.
7. Aging makes you unproductive and more Religious.
Though retired people may have left the workforce, they are hardly unproductive. They contribute countless hours to activities like helping with child-rearing and volunteering, which makes an enormous impact on society. Individuals will age differently and contribute differently.
Seniors certainly have a higher rate of religious attendance, but this is a generational phenomenon rather than an aging phenomenon. If you regularly attended church growing up, you’re likely to continue to do so as you age. Today’s seniors haven’t become more religious with time. Instead, they grew up in a time when more people went to church, which is why seniors are the most religious age group.