How well you age depends on what you think of old age

UN Ageing

(UNDESA, Division for Inclusive Social Development Ageing)

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jim Rendon & Olufemi Terry

At 85, Claude Copin, a retired French welder, may have discovered the secret to living a long, healthy life. She stays active by playing a pétanque game with friends in a Paris park. And she has made friends with her teammates’ children, many of whom are teenagers. They take her to parties and movies – sometimes forgetting that she might need a rest before they do. “I make my life beautiful”, says Copin. “I am still healthy because I have activities and I meet people.”

She is right. Original research and reporting by the global journalism organization Orb Media shows a strong connection between how we view old age and how well we age. Individuals with a positive attitude towards old age are likely to live longer and in better health than those with a negative attitude. Older people in countries with low levels of respect for the elderly are at risk for worse mental and physical health and higher levels of poverty, compared to others in their country. A shift in attitude, the research shows, could improve a lot.

Healthy ageing is increasingly important: countries everywhere outside of Africa are rapidly growing older. If population trends continue, by 2050 nearly one in five people in the world will be over 65. Close to half a billion will be older than 80. Smaller, young populations will have to care for large, older populations that have increasingly expensive healthcare needs.

Surprisingly, in a world full of older people, negative views of old age are common. A World Health Organization analysis found that 60% of people surveyed across 57 countries had negative views of old age. Older people are often viewed as less competent and less able than younger people. They are considered a burden on society and their families, rather than being recognized for their valuable knowledge, wisdom and experience.

Orb Media compiled data from more than 150,000 people in 101 countries to learn about their levels of respect for older people. Pakistan was among the countries that scored the highest.

Respect for older people is a long-standing tradition in Pakistan, says Faiza Mushtaq, an assistant professor of sociology at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi. But as more people move to cities, traditional family structures are being disrupted, making it harder to care for elders. Without a government safety net, many older people fall into severe poverty, she says. Nonetheless, there are tangible benefits to the way elders are viewed, says Mushtaq.

“This attitude towards ageing is a much healthier embrace of the ageing process, rather than having all your notions of well-being, attractiveness and self-worth tied so closely to youth”, she says.

Japan, with the world’s longest lifespans and low birth rates, is at the leading edge of this global demographic shift. There, Orb found low levels of respect for the elderly. Dr. Kozo Ishitobi, an 82-year-old nursing home physician, says that older people were traditionally seen as a burden. “Japanese people are starting to realize that elderly people need support”, he says. “We all go through it, so we should support each other.”

It turns out that one’s attitude towards ageing has broad implications. Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in the US, has been fascinated by the power of age stereotypes for decades. She started her work in the 1990s with a hunch. If older people are respected in society, perhaps that improves their self-image. “That may in turn actually influence their physiology and that may influence their health”, says Levy, the leader in the field.

Over the last two-and-a-half decades, Levy and other researchers that have followed have found just that: those with positive views about old age live longer and age better. They are less likely to be depressed or anxious, they show increased well-being and they recover more quickly from disability. They are also less likely to develop dementia and the markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

In one study, Levy found that Americans with more positive views on ageing who were tracked over decades lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative views. Studies in Germany and Australia have found similar results. “Some of the magnitudes of the findings have been surprising”, says Levy.

Orb’s research and analysis found that these effects can also be seen across cultures. Older people in countries with high levels of respect for the elderly report better mental and physical well-being compared to other groups in their countries, according to data from the OECD, the UN and others. Those countries also report lower rates of poverty among people over 50 compared to younger people.

It seems too simple. How can holding a better attitude towards old age help someone live longer? Levy found that people with negative age stereotypes have higher levels of stress. And stress has been correlated with a range of health problems. Those who expect a better life in old age are also more likely to exercise, eat well and visit the doctor, says Levy.

That has been the case for 57-year-old Marta Nazaré Balbine Prate, who moved her family into her parents’ home in Sao Paulo, Brazil a decade ago. She had to quit her job as a nutritionist at a hospital to care for them. Her father passed away at the beginning of the year. It has been hard financially and emotionally. But, she says, the experience has made her think about the kind of life she wants when she is older. “I try to watch what I eat. I work out as much as possible”, she says, “so I can reach old age in good physical condition”.

We should be grateful that we are even concerned about growing old, says Marília Viana Berzins. She has worked with the elderly in Brazil for 20 years, and she founded the advocacy group Observatory of Human Longevity and Ageing. “Old age is actually an achievement”, she says. “It’s humanity’s biggest achievement of the last century.”

But in Brazil, Berzins says, old age has become associated with incapacity. “When we change this mindset and old age is seen like just a stage of life, we’ll move forward,” she says. “The elderly will be treated with more respect.”

Shifting stereotypes is no simple feat. People develop their views on ageing when they are toddlers, says Corinna Loeckenhoff, an associate professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, who has studied age stereotypes across cultures. But they also change based on experience. Unfortunately, negative beliefs are often built on inaccurate impressions.

As people grow older, their health usually remains stable until about five years before they die, says Loeckenhoff. Only then will most people experience the mental and physical decline most associated with old age. “People keep mixing up ageing and dying”, she says.

Some research shows that increasing meaningful contact between young and older people can break down negative stereotypes. For the last five years, the Résidence des Orchidées, a nursing home in Tourcoing, France has tried to do just that. Every week, the home brings children from a neighbouring daycare centre to visit the residents.

Pierre Vieren, a 91-year-old retired business owner, loves seeing the children. “When I went to my balcony, the children said ‘Pierre, he is here’”, he says. “They all wave at me to say hello. That is my little ray of sunshine in the morning.”

The nursing home’s director, Dorothée Poignant, says that the experience normalizes old age for the children. “It recreates a family spirit with joy, children laughing, older people laughing”, she says. “We don’t only have elderly, we have children, elderly, disabled people. It’s inclusive.”

Everyone can gain from improving ideas about old age, says Loeckenhoff. “The single most important thing to realize about ageing stereotypes is that they are the only fair ones”, she says. “You will be the victim of your own stereotype, or the beneficiary as you get older.”

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

G7 summit: Trump Vs. G6 leaders on trade and climate change

Switzerland to favour EU citizens in immigration quotas as the risk of a new referendum looms

“BEUC cautions against TTIP that would seek to align EU and US chemicals management frameworks”

Is the ECB ready to flood Eurozone with freshly printed money?

EU Commission: a rise in wages and salaries may help create more jobs

Big impact vs big exit: the social side of the start-up game presented at the WSA Global Congress in Vienna

EU Parliament: ECB accountable for not supporting real economy

Will the three major parties retain control of the new EU Parliament?

Has the treacherous theory about the ‘French patient’ finally prevailed?

Historical success for the First ever European Presidential Debate

After the Italian ‘no’ and the Brexit, Germans must decide which Europe they want

The world has made spectacular progress in every measure of well-being. So why does almost no one know about it?

Chinese “BeiDou” GPS goes to market

The next EU President will first have to drink his tea at Downing Street

How biotechnology is evolving in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Intel @ European Business Summit 2014: Better decisions now, the new business dashboard 

Migration crisis update: lack of solidarity not only among EU leaders but also EU officials

From inconvenience to opportunity: the importance of international medical exchanges

Afghanistan: UN envoy urges further extension of ceasefire with Taliban, as Eid ul-Fitr gets underway

German political spillovers: ECB’s Draghi resists first attacks by AfD

A Valentine’s Special: heart has nothing to do with it, it’s all Brain

ECB settles the bank resolution issue, makes banking union tangible

EU-Russia relations: the beginning of a warmer winter?

European banking stress tests 2014: A more adverse approach for a shorter banking sector

Is history a new NATO weapons against Russia?

The IMF overstates the risks for Eurozone and downgrades the threats for the US economy

Here are 4 of the most politically charged World Cup games ever played

Military escalation will have ‘serious consequences’ for Yemeni civilians, warns UN Special Envoy

EU-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement sees the light as Moscow’s reaction once more looms

Glaringly false reassurances about the repercussions of the EU-US free trade agreement

A Sting Exclusive: “Regional Policy: a fully-fledged investment policy”, Commissioner Cretu reveals live from European Business Summit 2015

MWC 2016 LIVE: 5G to embrace unlicensed bands and Wi-Fi

Hollande protects the euro from the attacks of extremists

Is Britain to sail alone in the high seas of trade wars?

A new world that demands new doctors in the fourth industrial revolution

“China will strive to enhance the performance of economic growth”, President Xi highlights from the World Economic Forum 2017 in Davos

Greece lost a month that cannot be found neither in “mini Summits” nor in Berlin

Ethiopia will soon introduce visa-free travel for all Africans

The miserables and the untouchables of the economic crisis

How will Brexit affect higher education in the EU?

Paris agreed with Berlin over a loose and ineffective banking union

Banks, insurance giants are free again to abuse the real economy

World Health Organisation and medical students: is there any room for improvement?

China’s New Normal and Its Relevance to the EU

Education and Training: where do we stand in 2014?

The European Sting @ European Business Summit 2014 – the preview

Let’s Learn

Migration Crisis: how to open the borders and make way for the uprooted

Migration has set EU’s political clock ticking; the stagnating economy cannot help it and Turkey doesn’t cooperate

This crisis cannot be confronted with statistics

The DNA of the future retail CEO

“Fortress Europe”, “Pegida” and its laughing stocks

Warmongers ready to chew what is left of social protection spending

US-North Korea summit in Singapore ‘a promising development’ says Guterres

UN warns of ‘deteriorating climate’ for human rights defenders in Guatemala

The European Sting @ Mobile World Congress 2014, Creating What’s Next for the World. Can EU Policy follow?

EDRi @ European Business Summit 2014: Digital Citizenship in Brussels – the case of Net Neutrality

Are you breathing plastic air at home? Here’s how microplastics are polluting our lungs

Trump questions US – Europe kinship, approaches Russia

Here’s how China is going green

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s