Older people become what they think

“All of us have beliefs – many of them subconscious, dating back to childhood – about what it means to get older. Psychologists call these ‘age stereotypes.’ And, it turns out, they can have an important effect on seniors’ health. When stereotypes are negative – when seniors are convinced becoming old means becoming useless, helpless or devalued – they are less likely to seek preventive medical care and die earlier, and more likely to suffer memory loss and poor physical functioning…” (Judith Graham, NYT/Herald Tribune: Older people become what they think – an interesting read.) Has anyone done any research on the psychological effect on people of offering them a pendant alarm?

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  1. Cathy

    That is an interesting read and although it does not really tell me anything new it may be helpful to have the formal research base to influence the policy makers?

    The article is quite right towards the end where it talks about how we speak with each other about becoming older and about how families make the adjustment to a more positive perspective together.

    However, whilst we can each change our approach there is an institutionalised expectation of what old age is like:
    * We increased the numbers of care homes and now we are trying to reverse that
    * Sheltered Housing – much of which still relies on 1970’s type technology which the tenants have no faith in (I was told recently by one such tenant that he never wears his pendant, cannot remember when it was last tested, does have pull cords which are tested but knows that the pressure mat does not raise the alert …)
    * People issued with a personal alarm but not wearing the pendant since they don’t wish to be a nuisance – and the authority not checking to do anything about that
    * Staff in Extra Care housing who cherry pick the more able prospective tenants …
    * Providing a shopping service instead of supporting the person to go shopping …

    Despite all the political spin about “people living more independently for longer” We are effectively ghettoising old age and until we stop doing so that is what people expect their old age to be like.

    Yes we can change this with our individual voice – I wrote some time ago about Evelyn and her Community Alarm; my intervention persuaded her to wear her pendant every day. Recently on recovering from a fractured knee she fell just outside her front door and fractured her shoulder (yes she is accident prone – but it is less to do with old age and more to do with “more haste less speed” which she has always suffered from!) I asked her if she had pressed the pendant and she was most indignant “of course – that is what it is for” and then she continued “and I have told everyone I know who has one that they must wear their pendant because it is useless in the cupboard”.

    Yes Evelyn complains about the cost of the system but she is the best advertisement for the benefits too – she talks to everyone.

    However individual voices do need the harmony of the policy makers to sing a happier tune to lead us to our older age.