Decades of research suggests that age discrimination "can take years off one's life." Writing for the New York Times, Paula Span details how ageism can affect physical and cognitive health.
For over 30 years, Becca Levy, a psychologist, epidemiologist, and professor at the Yale School of Public Health, has studied the relationship between aging and health.
In over 140 published articles and a new book called "Breaking the Age Code," Levy has demonstrated that ageism can cause more than hurt feelings. "It affects physical and cognitive health and well-being in measurable ways and can take years off one's life," Span writes.
"Just as we have learned in recent decades that structures are biased against women and people of color, leading to worsened health outcomes, she has shown that negative feelings about old age lead to bad outcomes in older people," said Louise Aronson, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco.
In Levy's office, there is a card on her bulletin board that reads, "Ask Me About 7.5," which refers to her 2002 longevity study that followed hundreds of adults older than 50 for two decades in a small Ohio town. According to the study, median survival was seven and a half years longer among those with the most positive beliefs about aging, compared with those who had the most negative attitudes.
"I use that in practically every talk I give because it's shocking," said Tracey Gendron, who chairs the gerontology department at Virginia Commonwealth University.
To measure attitudes surrounding aging, Levy and her colleagues have used a variety of methods, including questionnaires, computer programs, small experimental samples, and health-record tracking for thousands through large national surveys.
Their research has found that—in addition to reduced longevity—ageism is associated with:
Levy and her colleagues estimate that age discrimination, negative age stereotypes, and negative self-perceptions of age result in $63 billion in annual excess spending on common health conditions.
According to Span, many people absorb negative stereotypes from a young age, "through disparaging media portrayals and fairy tales about wicked old witches." However, Levy noted that institutions, including employers, health care organizations, and housing policies, exhibit a similar form of prejudice with "structural ageism." Reversing this type of ageism will require widespread changes—an "age liberation movement," Levy added.
However, "[d]amaging ideas about age can change," Span writes. "Using the same subliminal techniques that measure stereotypical attitudes, [Levy's] team has been able to enhance a sense of competence and value among older people. Researchers in many other countries have replicated their results."
"You can't create beliefs, but you can activate them," by exposing people to words like "active" and "full of life," rather than "grumpy" or "helpless," to describe older adults, Levy said.
"Even though toddlers already have negative stereotypes about age, they're not set in stone," Levy said. "They're malleable. We can shift them." (Span, New York Times, 4/28)
Our team is working hard to understand how the industry can better care for older adults. Explore this work at advisory.com/seniors.
As the population of older adults (defined as adults at or above 65 years of age) increases, so too does the importance of understanding how these individuals interact with the health care ecosystem. Older adults are connected to multiple industry stakeholders spanning health care, and these stakeholders also interact with each other.
This ebook examines how organizations interact with seniors and other entitles across health care, identify the opportunities and future challenges facing each stakeholder group, and depict how money flows between stakeholders.
Create your free account to access 2 resources each month, including the latest research and webinars.
You have 2 free members-only resources remaining this month remaining this month.
Never miss out on the latest innovative health care content tailored to you.