Ageing well is a positive state of mind. Think positively about ageing and you’ll age much better. Think negatively, and it’s all downhill from there.
Bruce Grierson is a Vancouver based writer who writes about health and well-being among the aged. Recently he wrote a piece in Zoomer magazine, July/Aug 2018, “Yes, Ageism is Bad for your Health” upon which this post is based.
The prejudice against old people is pervasive, in stores, in restaurants, in media, in the streets and on social media. Accept it, live with it, deal with it but give up fighting it. After all, all of them will get old too.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, 34 years old, promotes the philosophy of “better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others.” Lip service as confirmed by examination of Facebook groups about older people where 84 sites dealing with old people we created and managed by people in their 20’s. A young person’s view, obviously.
Worse, more than 75% of the posts ‘excoriated’ older individuals. Worse still, 25% infantilized them. Even worse still, nearly 40% thought older people should be banned from public activities like shopping. It can’t get any worse? Oh yes, it can: some young people thought older folks should just hurry and die already, of unnatural causes if necessary, “Anyone over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad.”
Yale University research
Becca Levy, a Yale University professor of epidemiology and psychology, expected vitriol “But I didn’t expect it to be this bad.”
Facebook says it does not tolerate hate speech. “It is a serious violation of our terms to single out individuals based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease” is written in its Community Standards policy. Notice “age” is not on the list. Old people are non-entities even when inclusivity is professed. And eight of the most offensive Facebook sites are still running even after Levy published her work and brought it to the attention of Facebook.
Ageism is everywhere and social media is a convenient platform for young people to denigrate older people. Evidently, some young people don’t like old people very much — or maybe they just don’t like the idea of growing old.
Negative views of ageism impact on the prejudiced
Studies show that those who are too negative about old people pay for that bias on a physical level. Our bodies react to the bias and reinforce personal ageing as if it were a prescribed medication. Negative bias against old people actually and factually ages one. Levy has proven this through her research.
One of her studies asked people aged over 50 “As you get older, you are less useful” or “As I get older, things are (better, worse or the same) as I thought they would be?” Follow-up research 23 years later with the same subjects, at least with those still alive, found that the subjects with the most negative views of ageing died, on average, 7.6 years sooner than those with the most positive views. Thinking negatively about ageing kills you! Ageism is more deadly than genes, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness or lack of exercise. Think positively about ageing and you live longer!
Levy dug deeper into her research. Cardiovascular disease is the no. 1 killer of people over 50. Does negative age bias add stress to the heart? Her controlled research reinforced her hypothesis: thinking negatively about ageing caused older adults more stress.
Corroborating research reinforces that negative views of ageing cause stress
A Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging reinforced Levy’s hypothesis: those who had negative stereotypical views of ageing suffered twice as many heart events as those who absorbed more positive stereotypes. Levy controlled every factor she could think of, from diet to smoking to family history to emotional outlook like depression. The only difference was the subjects’ thoughts about ageing.
What can be concluded
Young people who hold ageist attitudes may put themselves at risk of heart disease up to years later.
Ageism is a multi-faceted deadly weapon affecting a wide variety of the human persona, even in areas in it would seem the psychological would have no impact: balance, handwriting, memory and even hearing loss. In more research, Levy tested septuagenarians with words like “frail” more than “wise” and found hearing loss was more significant among those whose language was negative. A follow-up study done only three years found the hearing loss was even more pronounced among the negative viewing subjects.
Recently, Levy’s studies have entered into the realm of the Alzheimer afflicted. Her research results explosively reinforced her theorizing: autopsies revealed that those who held the most negative age stereotypes bloomed plaques of amyloid and showed significant hippocampal shrinkage. Research more only confirmed her hypothesis, people who held rosier views of ageing were less than half as likely to show signs of dementia than those with negative views.
An important conclusion which can be inferred from Levy’s academic studies is that attitudes affect behaviour. People holding negative views of ageing behave more negatively. They are less likely to walk the extra block than those who have a more positive view, if you think you can’t, you won’t.
The short of all these studies is this. Believe you can and you will, more likely. Think positively, and you age positively. Do it and you likely continue doing longer than those who think negatively. Now I gotta get up and go do it.
Permission to reference this material was given by Bruce Grierson.