May 16, 2022

Older Americans Month: A Chance to Put Aside Stereotypes About Aging

Americans’ stereotypes about growing older have real consequences for the country’s aging population. Through the process of structural ageism, media portrayals of older people as senile, sick, or unproductive have become ingrained in our institutions. This prejudice is often learned at a young age, which pushes older Americans to absorb these negative views after a lifetime of indoctrination.

Those negative beliefs about aging can create unwelcome ramifications for older Americans’ mental and physical health. One study from the Yale School of Public Health found that for people over the age of 50, holding negative beliefs about aging shortened their life expectancy by 7.5 years. Ageism was also associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, reduced mobility, and anxiety and depression.

Similarly, when older Americans’ medical concerns are dismissed as a sign of ‘growing older,’ healthcare providers may ignore otherwise alarming symptoms and miss opportunities for early medical intervention.

However, the adverse health effects associated with ageism can be mitigated by nurturing a positive outlook towards growing older. Instead of dwelling on the negatives of aging, experts recommend that older people focus on the things they can control, remain engaged in their communities, and stay physically and mentally active.

“With May being Older Americans Month, we have an opportunity to fight misleading stereotypes and reinforce positive thinking,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance. “The evidence proves that the negative attitudes that some people hold towards aging can harm their ability to live a full life.”

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