Self-perceptions of aging

July 19, 2017 by Morgan Sherburne, University of Michigan
Credit: University of Michigan

In the 1960s, the Beatles sang about wondering whether their true love would still love them as they grew older—after they've lost their hair and are no more adventurous than wanting to knit a sweater.

A group of four studies led by University of Michigan researchers has found that however the hero of the Beatles song turns out, his —and his wife's health—may be dictated by their perceptions of their own aging.

"Beliefs about one's own aging are shared within couples, and these beliefs are predictive of above and beyond individual beliefs," said Shannon Mejia, a postdoctoral fellow at U-M's Institute for Social Research. "Husbands' and wives' individual experiences of physical activity and disease burden are important for their current shared beliefs and future functional health."

That is, couples who tend to view their aging negatively tend to become less healthy and less mobile than couples who view their aging positively. In addition, husbands' disease burden shape their attitudes toward both their own aging and their wives' aging. Mejia and colleagues surmise that the husbands' limitations stemming from disease negatively affect the wives' health because of the increased burden of caregiving.

Jennifer Sun, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at the U-M Medical School who conducted the research as a psychology doctoral candidate, found that a person's self-perception of aging affects whether he or she accesses health care in a timely fashion. She found that the more negatively a person viewed his or her aging, the more likely he or she was to delay seeking health care and the more barriers he or she saw for seeking care.

This association between negative self-perceptions of aging and health care delay persisted even after Sun controlled for problems that can delay , such as , lack of health insurance and multiple chronic health conditions.

"While many studies have focused on financial and structural barriers to care, it is also important to consider how psychosocial, emotional and cognitive factors are affecting the decisions of older adults to delay medical care," Sun said.

A third study authored by U-M doctoral candidate Hannah Giasson found that who experience age discrimination feel less positive about their own aging.

A fourth study found that as people aged, their explicit bias toward older people—or how they would talk out loud about how they felt toward fellow older adults—improved as they aged. But their implicit bias—how they felt internally about fellow older adults—became more negative as they aged. Giasson and William Chopik, a Michigan State University researcher, led this study.

The papers are published today in a special supplement to the August issue of The Gerontologist.

"We're interested in the way people interpret their own lives," said Jacqui Smith, the principal investigator of a project on well-being in midlife and old age and second author on some of the published papers.

"We know that the images in the world and age stereotypes play a role in how people perceive their own aging. But subtle experiences of discrimination in interactions with strangers and sometimes with your own kids or partner—that is feedback that people take to heart and either rebel against it or begin to believe it."

The AARP supported the publishing of the supplement ahead of the annual meeting of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics.

"Wherever these negative perceptions come from, the damage can be profound—for individuals, communities and larger populations," said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. "We need to change the conversation about age and aging in this country. It's not about being 'polite.' It's a necessity."

Explore further: AARP, GSA focus on effects of negative attitudes on aging

Related Stories

AARP, GSA focus on effects of negative attitudes on aging

July 18, 2017
The ways in which negative attitudes about aging can affect people's health and quality of life are the focus of 12 peer-reviewed research papers in a new AARP-sponsored supplement issue of The Gerontologist—the respected ...

As America ages, new national poll will track key health issues for those over 50

June 19, 2017
Nearly a third of U.S. adults have celebrated their 50th birthday - a sign of an aging nation. Now, a new poll based at the University of Michigan will take the pulse of this population on a wide range of health issues, and ...

New data reveal aging experiences of LGBT Americans

February 9, 2017
A new supplemental issue of the journal The Gerontologist presents the findings of the largest national survey to date focused on the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults.

New findings reveal health, aging experiences of LGBT older adults across nation

February 14, 2017
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from the University of Washington's School of Social Work have released new findings this month on the health and aging of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults in the ...

Good attitudes about aging help seniors handle stress

August 3, 2016
New research from North Carolina State University finds that having a positive attitude about aging makes older adults more resilient when faced with stressful situations.

Aging couples connected in sickness and health

June 1, 2015
As the world's population of older adults increases, so do conversations around successful aging—including seniors' physical, mental and social well-being.

Recommended for you

New exercise guidelines: Move more, sit less, start younger

November 12, 2018
Move more, sit less and get kids active as young as age 3, say new federal guidelines that stress that any amount and any type of exercise helps health.

Some activity fine for kids recovering from concussions, docs say

November 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Children and teens who suffer a sports-related concussion should reduce, but not eliminate, physical and mental activity in the days after their injury, an American Academy of Pediatrics report says.

Yelp reviews reveal strengths and weaknesses of emergency departments and urgent care

November 9, 2018
Yelp reviews reveal that emergency departments are viewed as being higher quality but lacking in service as compared to urgent care centers, which patients rate the opposite, according to a new study from researchers in the ...

A look at how colds and chronic disease affect DNA expression

November 8, 2018
We're all born with a DNA sequence that encodes (in the form of genes) the very traits that make us, us—eye color, height, and even personality. We think of those genes as unchanging, but in reality, the way they are expressed, ...

Patients with untreated hearing loss incur higher health care costs over time

November 8, 2018
Older adults with untreated hearing loss incur substantially higher total health care costs compared to those who don't have hearing loss—an average of 46 percent, totaling $22,434 per person over a decade, according to ...

Lifespan is increasing in people who live to 65

November 7, 2018
Stanford biologist Shripad Tuljapurkar had assumed humans were approaching the limit to their longevity – that's what previous research had suggested – but what he observed in 50 years of lifespan data was more optimistic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.