Age discrimination and health: study shows close connections

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Summary: Almost all adults between the ages of 50 and 80 say they experience ageism in their everyday lives, but people with health problems experience ‘everyday ageism’ more often.

Source: University of Michigan

Nearly all older adults have experienced some form of ageism in their everyday lives, a new study found — whether it’s seeing ageism messages and images on TV or online, encountering people who suggest they are less capable, only because they are older, or because they believe stereotypes about aging.

But older adults with greater health concerns appear to be the most likely to have experienced this type of “everyday ageism,” according to new findings published by a team from the University of Oklahoma, Norman and the University of Michigan. 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 was on a scale of everyday age discrimination experiences, the more likely they were to be in poor physical or mental condition, have more chronic health problems, or show signs of depression.

Although the study published in JAMA network openUnable to establish cause and effect, the authors note that the links between ageism and health need further study and consideration when developing programs to promote the health and well-being of older adults.

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

Allen worked on the survey 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 at the UM Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and is 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. This scale, validated and published last year, calculates a score based on a person’s responses to 10 questions about their own experiences and beliefs about aging.

Overall, 93% of the older adults surveyed said they had experienced at least one of the 10 forms of age discrimination on a regular basis. Most commonly, nearly 80% agreed that “health problems are part of aging” – although 83% of respondents described their own health as good or very good. This “internalized” age discrimination also included agreeing with the statements that loneliness, depression, sadness or worry about getting old are part of it.

Meanwhile, 65% of older adults said they regularly see, hear or read jokes about older people or news that older adults are unattractive or undesirable.

Another class of aging experiences – which the researchers call interpersonal ageism – was reported as a regular occurrence by 45% of respondents. These included experiences with another person where the older person felt they had difficulty using technology, seeing, hearing, understanding, remembering, or doing something independently — or not doing anything worthwhile .

The researchers calculated Everyday Ageism scores for each of the more than 2,000 survey participants based on their responses to all of the survey questions.

The average total score was just over 10. As a group, people aged 65-80 scored over 11, suggesting that the 50-64 age group is more affected by age discrimination.

People with lower income or educational levels and those living in rural areas also had higher average age discrimination scores than others. Older adults who reported spending four hours or more each day watching television, 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 reported about their own health, including self-rated physical and mental health, number of chronic health conditions, and report of depression symptoms.

This shows a caricature of an aging man
Ageism takes many forms, including internalized stereotypes about what people experience as they age. Photo credit: University of Michigan

They found a strong association between higher scores and all four health-related measures. That is, those who reported higher Everyday Ageism scores were more likely to report that their overall physical health or overall mental health was fair or poor, more chronic health conditions, and symptoms of depression.

Much of this linkage had to do with internalized age discrimination measures—the questions that measure how strongly a person agrees with statements about health problems, loneliness, and sadness as part of getting older. However, experiences with interpersonal forms of age discrimination have also been linked to health-related measures, as have some aspects of age messages.

The relationship between age discrimination experiences in the daily lives of older adults and health was of particular interest to survey leader and senior author Preeti Malani, MD, a Michigan Medicine professor with a background in the care of older adults.

“The fact that our survey participants, who reported experiencing most forms of age discrimination, were also more likely to say their physical or mental health was fair or poor, or that they suffered from a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease is something that needs more investigation,” she says.

Learn more about the National Healthy Aging Survey at www.healthyagingpoll.org and sign up to receive new reports as they are released.

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

Other authors: Erica Solway, PhD, MSW, MPH; Matthias Kirch, MS; Dianne Singer, MPH; Jeffrey T Kullgren, MD, MS, MPH; Valerie Moïse, MS

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

About this news from health and aging research

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

Original research: Open access.
“Experiences of Everyday Ageism and the Health of Older US Adults” by Julie Ober Allen et al. JAMA network open


abstract

Experiences of everyday age discrimination and the health of older US adults

meaning

See also

This shows pink and blue toy bunnies

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

objective

Examining the prevalence of everyday ageism, group differences and disparities, 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 Healthy Aging Survey among a nationally representative household sample of US adults ages 50-80. Data was analyzed from November 2021 to April 2022.

exposures

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

Main results and actions

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

Results

Among 2035 adults aged 50 to 80 (1047 [54.2%] Women; 192 Black [10.9%]178 Spanish [11.4%]and 1546 white [71.1%]; mean [SD] Age, 62.6 [8.0] Years [weighted statistics]), most participants (1915 adults [93.4%]) stated that they had regularly experienced one or more forms of everyday age discrimination. Internalized ageism was reported by 1664 adults (81.2%), age messages by 1394 adults (65.2%) and interpersonal ageism by 941 adults (44.9%). The mean scores of the Everyday Ageism Scale were higher for several sociodemographic groups, including adults aged 65 to 80 compared to those aged 50 to 64 (11.23 [95% CI, 10.80-11.66] versus 9.55 [95% CI, 9.26-9.84]) and white (10.43 [95% CI, 10.20-10.67]; P < 0.001) and Spanish (10.09 [95% CI, 9.31-10.86]; P = 0.04) 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 adverse physical and mental health outcomes assessed in regression analyzes (with odds ratios [ORs] per additional scale point up to 1.20 [95% CI, 1.17-1.23] with depressive symptoms and b = 0.039 [95% CI, 0.029-0.048] for chronic health conditions; Pvalues ​​< .001). Internalized age discrimination was the category associated with the largest increase in risk of poor outcomes for all health measures (with ORs per additional scale point of up to 1.62 [95% CI, 1.49-1.76] with depressive symptoms and b= 0.063 [95% CI, 0.034-0.092] for chronic health conditions; Pvalues ​​< .001).

Conclusions and Relevance

This study found that everyday ageism is prevalent among US adults aged 50 to 80. These results suggest that everyday messages, interactions, and beliefs about aging can be detrimental to health, and that multilevel, multisectoral efforts may be needed to counter everyday ageism and positive beliefs, practices, and policies related to ageing to promote aging and older adults.

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