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101 Facts About Ageing #53: Ageism Towards The Elderly Correlates With Poorer Health

Posted on 7 December 2021

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As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American sociologist, politician, and diplomat once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. And we wholeheartedly agree. A shared set of facts is the first step to building a better world with longevity for all. In that spirit, we are creating a series that covers 101 indisputable facts about ageing, health and longevity.

Ageism is discrimination or prejudice on the grounds of a person’s age. While anyone can be a victim of ageism, research does suggest that attitudes towards older people are predominantly more negative when compared to attitudes towards younger age groups.

Many studies have found associations between the prevalence of ageism and negative health outcomes for older adults. Higher levels of ageism predict poorer health and shorter lifespan at a given age after controlling for other confounding factors. Associations between ageism and poor health are found more frequently in less developed countries, and individuals who are less well educated are more likely to experience negative health outcomes associated with higher levels of ageism.

Distribution of 422 studies investigating the effects of ageism on different aspects of health. Denied access to health services and treatments was the most researched aspect of ageism. 84.6% of these studies found that age influenced the likelihood of receiving treatment independently of prognosis and other confounders.

It is difficult to prove definitively that ageism causes all of the negative health outcomes in theses associations. It is possible, for example, that for individuals and populations with poorer health, perceptions of ageing are more negative because elderly people tend to be less capable as a consequence of age-related disability. However, it’s quite plausible that ageism could contribute to poorer health outcomes. Discrimination results in psychological stress, which predicts poorer health and increased mortality. Age stereotyping by healthcare professionals may make older adults less likely to receive appropriate treatment for health conditions. Self perceptions of ageing are also an important consideration: older adults who take more negative views of ageing themselves may have more pessimistic views about their own abilities and self-worth, leading to less healthy behaviours and poorer mental health.

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