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Ageism and Health: Research Shows Close Links

Overview: Nearly all adults between the ages of 50 and 80 experience ageism in their daily lives, but people with health problems are more likely to experience “everyday ageism”.

Source: University of Michigan

Nearly all older adults have experienced some form of ageism in their daily lives, a new study shows — whether it’s seeing age-appropriate messages and images on television or the Internet, meeting people that imply they’re less capable. are just because they are older, or believing stereotypes about aging.

According to new findings published by a team from the University of Oklahoma, Norman and the University of Michigan, older adults with more health problems seem most likely to have experienced this kind of “everyday ageism.” The data, from a survey of more than 2,000 people between the ages of 50 and 80, comes from the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

The higher a person’s score on a scale of everyday experiences of ageism, the more likely they were in poor physical or mental health, had more chronic health problems, or showed signs of depression.

Although the study, published in JAMA network openedunable to demonstrate cause and effect, the authors note that the links between ageism and health should be further explored and taken into account when designing programs to encourage good health and well-being in older adults.

“These findings raise the question of whether aging-related health problems reflect the adverse influences of ageism and raise the possibility that anti-ageism efforts could be a strategy to promote the health and well-being of older adults,” said first author Julie Ober Allen, Ph. .D., MPH, Department of Health and Exercise Science, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Allen worked on the research during her time as a postdoctoral researcher at the Population Studies Center at UM’s Institute for Social Research.

The team previously published preliminary findings in a report from the NPHA, which is based on the UM Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine, UM’s academic medical center.

But the new analysis goes further and uses the Everyday Ageism Scale developed by the team. That scale, validated and published last year, calculates a score based on a person’s answers to 10 questions about their own experiences and beliefs regarding aging.

Overall, 93% of older adults surveyed said they regularly experienced at least one of 10 forms of ageism. The most common, experienced by nearly 80%, agreed with the statement that “health problems are part of aging” – although 83% of people surveyed described their own health as good or very good. This kind of “internalized” ageism also included agreeing to statements that feeling lonely, or being depressed, sad, or worried, is part of aging.

Meanwhile, 65% of the elderly say they regularly see, hear or read jokes about the elderly, or reports that the elderly are unattractive or unwanted.

Another class of age experiences—which the researchers call interpersonal ageism—was seen as regular by 45% of respondents. These included experiences involving another person, where the older person assumed they had difficulties using technology, seeing, hearing, understanding, remembering, or doing something on their own – or that they were not doing anything of value.

The researchers calculated Everyday Ageism scores for each of the more than 2,000 poll respondents, based on their answers to all poll questions.

The overall mean score was just over 10. As a group, people ages 65 to 80 scored more than 11, indicating that there is more ageism among those ages 50-64.

People with a lower income or a lower level of education, and people who lived in rural areas, also scored higher on average than others. Older adults who reported watching four hours or more of television each day, surfing the Internet, or reading magazines scored higher than those with less exposure to such media.

The researchers then looked at each person’s individual score in light of what they had said about their own health, including self-rated physical and mental health, number of chronic health problems, and reporting depression symptoms.

This shows a cartoon of an aging man
Age discrimination takes many forms, including internalized stereotypes about what people experience in old age. Credit: University of Michigan

They found a close association between higher scores and all four health-related measures. That is, those who reported higher scores for daily age discrimination were more likely to have reported their overall physical health or overall mental health was fair or poor, more chronic health problems, and symptoms of depression.

Much of this linkage had to do with internalized measures of age discrimination — the questions that measured how strongly a person agreed with the statements about health problems, loneliness, and sadness that are part of aging. But experiences with the interpersonal forms of age discrimination were also linked to health-related measures, as were some aspects of age messages.

The relationship between experiences of ageism in older adults’ everyday lives and health is of particular interest to poll director and senior author Preeti Malani, MD, a Michigan Medicine professor with a background in older adult care.

“The fact that our survey respondents who said they had felt most age discrimination were also more likely to say that their physical or mental health was fair or poor, or having a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease is something that has need more research,” she says.

Read more about the national poll on healthy aging at www.healthyagingpoll.organd sign up to receive new reports as they are published.

The data on which the new study is based is available at: https://www.openicpsr.org/openicpsr/project/171621/version/V1/view

Additional authors: Erica Solway, PhD, MSW, MPH; Matthias Kirch, MS; Dianne Singer, MPH; Jeffrey T. Kullgren, MD, MS, MPH; Valerie Moise, MS

Financing: The study was funded in part by a grant to the UM Population Studies Center, where Allen was a postdoctoral researcher, from the National Institute on Aging (AG000221). The Open Access Fund of the University of Oklahoma Libraries also provided support.

About this news about health and aging research

Author: Kara Gavin
Source: University of Michigan
Contact: Kara Gavin – University of Michigan
Image: The image is attributed to the University of Michigan

Original research: Open access.
Experiences of Everyday Ageism and the Health of Older American Adultsby Julie Ober Allen et al. JAMA network opened


Abstract

Experiences of Everyday Ageism and the Health of Older American Adults

Interest

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Major incidents of age discrimination have been shown to be associated with poorer health and well-being in older adults. Less is known about routine forms of age-based discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping that older adults encounter in their daily lives, otherwise known as everyday ageism.

Objective

Exploring the prevalence of everyday ageism, group differences and inequalities, and associations of everyday ageism with indicators of poor physical and mental health.

Design, setting and participants

This cross-sectional study was conducted using survey data from the December 2019 National Poll on Healthy Aging among a nationally representative sample of households of U.S. adults ages 50 to 80. The data was analyzed from November 2021 to April 2022.

Exposures

Experiences of everyday ageism were measured using the newly developed multidimensional Everyday Ageism Scale.

Main results and measures

Fair or poor physical health, number of chronic health problems, fair or poor mental health, and symptoms of depression.

Results

Among 2035 adults aged 50 to 80 (1047 [54.2%] Ladies; 192 Black [10.9%]178 Spanish [11.4%]and 1546 White [71.1%]† mean [SD] age, 62.6 [8.0] year [weighted statistics]), most participants (1915 adults [93.4%]) reported regularly experiencing one or more forms of everyday age discrimination. Internalized ageism was reported by 1,664 adults (81.2%), age reports by 1,394 adults (65.2%) and interpersonal ageism by 941 adults (44.9%). Mean Everyday Ageism Scale scores were higher for several sociodemographic groups, including adults aged 65 to 80 versus those aged 50 to 64 (11,23 [95% CI, 10.80-11.66] usa 9.55 [95% CI, 9.26-9.84]) and white (10.43 [95% CI, 10.20-10.67]† P < .001) and Spanish (10.09 [95% CI, 9.31-10.86]† p = .04) adults vs black adults (9.23 [95% CI, 8.42-10.03]†

Higher levels of everyday ageism were associated with an increased risk of all 4 negative physical and mental health outcomes examined in regression analyzes (with odds ratios [ORs] per additional scale point as high as 1.20 [95% CI, 1.17-1.23] for depressive symptoms and b = 0.039 [95% CI, 0.029-0.048] for chronic health problems; pvalues ​​< .001). Internalized age discrimination was the category associated with the greatest increase in risk of poor outcomes for all health measures (with ORs per additional scale point as high as 1.62 [95% CI, 1.49-1.76] for depressive symptoms and b= 0.063 [95% CI, 0.034-0.092] for chronic health problems; pvalues ​​< .001).

Conclusions and relevance

This study found that everyday age discrimination occurs among American adults ages 50 to 80. These findings suggest that everyday messages, interactions and beliefs of age may be detrimental to health and that multi-level and multi-sector efforts may be needed to reduce everyday age discrimination and promote positive beliefs, practices and policies regarding aging. and older adults.

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