Aging, Ageism and Longevity

December 14, 2010

By Dr. Larry Anderson

Not long ago, it was reported by researchers, in a longitudinal study, which began over 30 years ago, that persons in midlife who have positive attitudes toward aging live an average of seven and a half years longer than those who are negative about their aging selves. The findings are independent of gender, age, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health.

Some people are relatively complacent about the “elderly” dying at seventy or seventy-five. They appear to assume that lives beyond retirement, unlike earlier life, are all the same and boring. Considering that there appears to be an ongoing fear and prejudice about the effects of an aging population reflected in “apocalyptic demography” or “age blaming”, I thought it would be important to take a deeper look at some ageist notions about the consequences of aging. (1)

Much of the literature about aging focuses on the assumption that it means inevitable decline. Specifically that; “…old age, not age, renders man ugly and useless”. This is specifically expressed in the connotation of the term “elderly.”

In my ageism research, conducted several years ago in British Columbia, out of over 800 senior citizens, 34% reported that they had been told that they were “too old” to do something. Forty percent reported that a doctor or nurse, without investigating, assumed their ailments were caused by age.

It’s hard to maintain a positive sense of oneself if we are exposed to ageist comments from friends, family, medical specialists and the government especially if we ourselves believe negative stereotypes. If we value life and want to live, as long as possible we must do what we can to fight these ageist attitudes of old age and keep positive attitudes.

(1) Adapted from: Ageism: Rethinking Ageing by Dr. Bill Bytheway

About the Author: Dr. Larry Anderson is university professor of psychology who is retiring soon. He has started a company called BC Community Building and plans on presenting workshops to prepare people for retirement. Dr. Anderson is on the board of the Langley Senior’s Resource Society. Read more of Larry’s articles at his blog.

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