Mind Over Matter: Perceptions of Aging Are a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Your attitude toward aging matters. Research from several studies indicates that individuals with more positive attitudes toward aging tend to live longer, happier lives than those with negative perceptions of aging (POA). In a recent nationally representative study, data was collected from about 14,000 participants over the age of 50 in order to examine the association more extensively between health and POA. The study found that individuals with the most favorable POA exhibited a 43% lower risk of dying within four years.  

Findings highlight a connection between health and behavior. Those who are more satisfied with how they are aging are more likely to proactively engage in behaviors that promote good health. Thus, perceptions of aging can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

POA can change, indicating that those with more negative POA can improve their POA and still reap the health benefits. To do so, researchers offer four suggestions: (1) Older adults should have a sense of purpose that aligns with one’s values. For instance, if an individual values family, caring for their grandchildren may give them a sense of purpose, which can ultimately lead to more favorable POA. (2) Older adults should recognize negative messages about aging in the media. Negative stereotypes about aging are internalized with exposure, causing declines in physical and cognitive health as one grows older. Developing an awareness of these messages can help older adults consciously avoid their influence. (3) Older adults should stay socially active. It’s common for older adults to lose spouses, family members, and friends as they age, making it difficult to maintain social networks and increasing the likelihood of exhibiting loneliness. Making new friends helps older adults engage in social habits they exhibited earlier in life. (4) When older adults lose mobility and are unable to engage in common activities, they should try something new. Older adults can learn to do something less physically demanding that may be just as enjoyable, improving self-esteem, memory, and overall quality of life.  

So while aging may be out of our control, using these suggestions to cultivate positive POA can help us control its consequences. 


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Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

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