Interesting Ageing Stuff
Crabby Old Lady and the Internet of Junk

Stay Healthy and Mentally Sharp: Celebrate Old Age

Year by year over the past two decades, evidence piles up that being on the receiving end of ageist attitudes, beliefs and practices not only leads to poor health, it can shorten lives.

And it's not only others' prejudice that adversely affects health. Just as important is an elder's own attitude toward being old; if it's negative, your health is likely to suffer.

One of the leading researchers in the field of ageism is Dr. Becca Levy of Yale University School of Public Health. In fact, as her online profile notes, Levy is credited with

”...creating a field of study that focuses on how positive and negative age stereotypes, which are assimilated from the culture, can have beneficial and adverse effects, respectively, on the health of older individuals.”

To spare you too many research study quotations, here is a fairly succinct overview of the results of some recent health-related ageism studies pulled together for a story in the Wall Street Journal:

”...dozens of studies from psychologists, medical doctors and neuroscientists have shown that older people with more negative views of aging fare more poorly on health than those with less-pessimistic attitudes.

“Even when study participants have similar health, education levels and socioeconomic status, those with more negative outlooks about aging show greater declines in a variety of areas over time.

“They have shakier handwriting, poorer memories, higher rates of cardiac disease and lower odds of recovering from severe disability, according to studies by Prof. Levy.

“They are less likely to eat a balanced diet, exercise and follow instructions for taking prescription medications as they age. They even die younger - the median difference in survival rates is 7.5 years.”

A new study from Trinity College in Dublin, reported at sciencedaily.com, confirms that negative attitudes toward aging affect cognitive as well as physical health.

”...frail participants with negative attitudes towards aging had worse cognition compared to participants who were not frail. However, frail participants with positive attitudes towards aging had the same level of cognitive ability as their non-frail peers.

You will find the full study at Science Direct behind a paid firewall.

Ageism results from the many widely believed myths about growing old that no matter how frequently and authoritatively they are refuted, apparently defy correction. A handful of those persistent myths are:

The majority of old people have no interest in, nor capacity for, sexual relations

The majority of old people are unable to adapt to change

Depression is more frequent among the elderly than among younger people

Old people tend to be pretty much alike

Older workers usually cannot work as effectively as younger workers

None of those statements were true when gerontologist Erdman B. Palmore, professor emeritus of medical sociology at Duke University, published his Facts on Aging Quiz in 1998 - and they are still false today.

Nevertheless, the last one is under attack (again) with a new study my friend John Gear, an attorney in Salem, Oregon, alerted me to.

Using the results from one year of an Australian study of about 6500 people aged from 40 to 70-plus, researchers at the Melbourne Institute have concluded that people 40 and older get stupid after working 25 hours.

Okay, I'll admit that “stupid” is my word but that's what they appear to be saying:

”...in order for people over the age of 40 to perform their best, work weeks need to be three days with a maximum of 25 hours,” reports Daily Sabah.

“This is necessary to ensure productivity and enhance performance, the study said. “It was revealed that people who work three days performed much better than those working for more days.”

You can believe that or not but there is some additional information to consider than none of several news reports I read bothered to mention.

The data was taken from a longitudinal study, the annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) Survey, that has been ongoing in Australia since 2001 but tested for workplace cognitive capability only one of those years.

Disturbing enough to rely on such limited information. But the implication that bothers me is the subtle suggestion that it is only middle aged and older workers who suffer this cognitive failure after 25 hours – a conclusion that is impossible to make since no one younger than 40 was tested.

(The full study, titled Use It Too Much and Lose It? The Effect of Working Hours on Cognitive Ability, can be found here [pdf].)

This follows a worrisome trend I've been been noticing for the past few years: that academics, political figures, governments, corporations and others grab onto isolated statistics or factoids, often as tenuous as this one, to propose ageist alterations to programs and institutions that benefit elders.

Think cutting Social Security, raising the Social Security retirement age, changing Medicare and Medicaid to a voucher programs, instituting an upper cut-off age for drivers licenses, in addition to others as subtlely ageist as this study from Australia.

And that's just off the top of my head. I am kicking myself that over the years I've been noticing the accumulation of these proposals, I've not kept a file. I'll start now (and you can help by sending me any you come across).

Meanwhile, don't take questionable research too seriously and make use of the important work Professor Levy and her cohorts do: Stay Healthy and Mentally Sharp: Celebrate Old Age.

Comments

Most people I encounter for the first time assume that I am 20 years younger than my calendar age and attribute that to my life long addiction to daily exercise, right diet and 1/2 full glass attitude.

Ronnie, the misperceptions are all around us. Take the example I saw yesterday from Josh Barro on Twitter. It's important to note that Josh Barro is a Senior Editor at Business Insider and an MSNBC Contributor. If he is making public statements like this, then the stereotypes will prevail:

Josh Barro ‏@jbarro 15h15 hours ago Manhattan, NY
Josh Barro Retweeted PewResearch Internet
4 percent of Internet users 65 and older say they use Instagram. How many of those just thought meant "Internet"?

Josh Barro added,
Josh Barro ‏@jbarro 15h15 hours ago Manhattan, NY
"Oh yes, I use the Instagram to send Internets to my grandson's telephone."
View conversation 2 retweets 35 likes
Reply Retweet 2
Like 35

Pew Research should also be embarrassed by their tweet.
It's frustrating.

My first thought was about cause and effect. Do ageist attitudes cause poor health in seniors, or does poor health in seniors cause ageist attitudes?

Attitude, attitude, attitude. I am a firm believer in the power of the mind and that it affects our health in dramatic ways. I think that people with negative attitudes not only undermine their health and longevity, they fail to enjoy the advantages of being an elder.

I never pay attention to random studies as they are so often proven wrong by another study. There are always other factors that a study cannot, or does not, take into consideration when evaluating group studies of people.

Some months ago Amazon sent an e-mail survey to Kindle users. The first question was age. I clicked on "75 and older" and the screen went blank. I wrote to them about it, got a polite response but no more surveys.
Carol

Once again, Darlene nails it.

Keeping it real: PiedType may have a point in my view. Being "optimistic" and "positive" is terrific but can get a whole lot harder when pain is a daily condition and feeling well is increasingly rare. For many some level of physical well-being is a big part of staying functional, independent, active and involved.

I haven't delved into the statistics for depression among older people, but I do know that depression among young people is on the rise as life becomes more complicated and economically demanding. A lot of energy is being devoted to helping young people cope with their depression, cognitive therapy being one of the treatments offered. I suspect that the main treatment for older depressed people is medication, which never results in attitudinal change. When young people have negative attitudes and become depressed, our society responds with measures to change that. Are older people being given the same consideration? We should be asking, "What can be done to change negative attitudes among older people?" As cultural negative stereotyping of the old changes ( and it will), can we assume that fewer older people will have negative attitudes?

Three days of 25 hours without sleep? Just kidding. What are we supposed to do the rest of the time?

If the study has any merit at all, I wonder if it's age or workplace conditions that's making the difference. If you're an older worker and you know from experience and your employer's culture that you've climbed as high up the career ladder as you're going to go, productivity over time may very well suffer. Take away the carrot and the donkey slows down.

Love Darlene's comment!
Also curious where Age Denial falls. I have several friends who vehemently deny they are old or getting old. To me that smacks of a negative attitude.

I've come to believe that there is "work" to be done in older adulthood, just as there is in every other phase of life. And it includes emotional, mental, and spiritual work, completing some aspects left over from our younger and middle years and preparing for death. I don't see any of that as a negative.

Great comments...

If the Australian study had merit I would expect most governments to be planning to lower the age for Social Security rather than raising it.
On the other hand, the study says more about the jobs than the people. In the US most jobs are mind-numbingly boring, so it is not surprising that what might take a 25 year old 40 hours to do, can be easily done in 25 hours by someone 40 years old or more. Combined with the distractibility and short attention span of younger workers, lack of experience, focus and inability to read anything that is not on a computer screen, it is amazing that they can do the job in 40 hours. Maybe that explains the dumbing down of the workplace.

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