Now that I’m in my 60s, I find adjusting to how others see me can be pretty tough at times. I still feel like the same 40 or 50-year-old inside, but looking in the mirror is sometimes shocking.
The first time a waiter at a restaurant turned to Mike and I and said, “Would you two like the senior discount?” I thought, “Is he talking to me?”
The way these internalized attitudes about aging affect us physically is a focus within a growing field in social psychology called “mind-body studies.” In the next few months, the World Health Organization will publish the results of a global investigation of ageism — discrimination toward elders, similar to racism and sexism. This report will address how we might fight ageist discrimination and prejudice. The report will also outline the myriad ways that ageist attitudes can and do affect the health and well-being of us and our elders.
I find research in this area fascinating! For example, researchers have found that “words used to describe older people, found in a database of historical American English, have become increasingly negative in the past 200 years, possibly because aging has come to be seen as a medical condition.” Positive words like wise, sage, accomplished, learned, creative, insightful have increasingly been replaced with declining, dependent, senile, dying, decrepit and incompetent.
When these negative age stereotypes are used against an elder population, subjects show a decline in performance in memory tests and other areas. Those exposed to positive age stereotypes showed improvements. On so many different tests, findings suggest a strong correlation between exposure to positive stereotypes and an improved view of Self as we age.
This reminds me of one of my favorite lifelong sayings:
“Language is practical consciousness.” -Karl Marx
Carefully analyze the words we use to describe ourselves and others! The way we honestly see ourselves and others has meaning. How do others refer to you? Does that impact how you see yourself?
As any wordsmith will tell you, WORDS DO MATTER.
As Psychologist Becca Levy put it:
“Stereotypes about aging are so pervasive. They can easily be assimilated from the surrounding culture, become a part of an individual’s self-definition, and ultimately affect how that person’s body operates — a process called “stereotype embodiment.”
Dr. Levy has linked negative aging attitudes to such measures as walking speed in elders, a greater likelihood to develop dementia, and even a reduction in life span. Want to learn more about this important area of research?