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New Research Examines Ageism And Its Effects On Older Adults

A new study finds that whether or not seniors are viewed as “old” is often determined by whether they adhere to stereotypical habits of older adults. When seniors are viewed as “old” by family members, caregivers, and others around them, they use a number of strategies to prove their worth, some of which are healthier than others.

The study, to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, was conducted through detailed interviews with individuals in their late 80’s, paid caregivers, as well as their family members. Researchers found that the seniors in the study were viewed as old when their consumption activities most adhered to traditional perceptions of older adults. On the other hand, individuals in their 80s or 90s who remained independent, active, and aware were often not viewed as old by those around them.

When seniors were viewed as old by others but did not identify as old, problems often emerged. The older adults often engaged in verbal arguments with their family members or caregivers and tried to reassert their independence through performing activities on their own. In some cases, the seniors cut their family members out of their lives. In one example, ageism came from a doctor. The doctor would consistently talk to the adult daughter instead of his patient, Abby. “If younger people bring you in, they think it’s because you’re not, I guess, lucid enough to understand what they’re saying,” Abby said. “But that irked me so bad that I wanted to grab him by the collar and say, ‘Look, talk to me! I’m the patient.’” Abby stopped inviting family members to her doctor’s appointments to ensure the doctor spoke directly to her.

Lead researcher Michelle Barnhart emphasizes that we must change the way we view aging as a society. “Losing a bit of your independence by getting help from others doesn’t have to equate with becoming a devalued and marginalized member of society,” she said. “Everybody ages, you can’t stop that. But what we can do is respond to someone’s limitations in a way that preserves dignity and value.”

Read more about the Oregon State University study and ALFA’s initiatives for combatting ageism.

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