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June 4, 2020

Ageism should come with a health warning!

Ageism can have harmful effects on our health and wellbeing. This is revealed in the largest examination to date of the health consequences of ageism in the report Global reach of ageism on older persons’ health: A systematic review. The study involved over 7 million participants and found evidence that it harms the health of older people in 45 countries and across 5 continents. They found evidence that ageism led to worse outcomes in a number of mental health conditions, including depression, physical health conditions and a shorter life expectancy.

That Age Old Question, published by Royal Society for Public Health, also revealed the health impacts of ageism, it describes a ‘Worrying pathway between ageist attitudes and deteriorating well-being among older adults’. The evidence suggests that people who have taken on a negative attitude towards ageing tend to have worse health outcomes and live 7.5 years fewer on average.

Being influenced by ageist beliefs can be a barrier to taking up healthy habits and slow down recovery from illness and injury. It can increase stress, depression and anxiety. It can even cause people to walk more slowly, this was observed after people had been exposed to negative ideas about ageing.

Negative beliefs linked to the body and appearance are harmful and can reduce someone’s self-esteem and mental well being. That Age Old Question showed that 49% of women and 23% of men said they feel pressured to stay looking younger.

Positive beliefs about ageing are associated with a lower risk of developing dementia, and the effects of negative ideas about ageing were shown to reduce memory performance. A study showed that positive beliefs about age were found to act as a protective factor, even for people who had a higher genetic risk of developing dementia (1).

A common assumption about older people is that they all have health conditions which are very costly to treat, and as a result that they are seen as a ‘burden’ on the NHS. Although this idea has been shown to be a misconception (2) treating illness at any age does cost money. So doesn’t this evidence suggest that if we adopted a strategy focused on ending ageism there would be significant reduction in the costs to the NHS? Also, older people now and in the future would have better lives?

Find out how you can protect yourself from the harm of ageism in our new resource Feel good about ageing. Learn more about all of the Impacts of Ageism in our resources and the ageism associated with Covid-19 in the LOPF Covid-19 and Ageism Statement. Test your knowledge with our Ageism Quiz and write a postcard to your future self. Become an Age Friendly Ambassador and help challenge ageism and make Leeds a great city to grow old in.

Jude Woods
Communities Officer, Time to Shine

(1) Positive Age Beliefs Protect Against Dementia Even Among Elders With High-Risk-Gene (Becca R Levy, Martin D Slade, Robert H Pietrzak, Luigi Ferrucci, 2018)

(2) A New Narrative on Ageing (Editors: Peter Dale and Nick Wilson, EngAgeNet Publications, 2018)