The key to ageing well lies in self-perception

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  • Researchers have long known that self-perception of ageing may predict how one will actually experience old age
  • A recent study revealed that greater optimism is linked to a more positive SPA
  • They also found that internalised stereotypes about ageing drive negative perceptions

Evidence from previous studies indicate that self-perceptions of ageing (SPA) are important predictors of health outcomes in the future, and can be linked to a range of events like cardiovascular health, mortality, and memory. 

This means that if someone has positive perceptions of ageing, for example, they could live longer than individuals who have a less positive outlook.

In a recent study, researchers Shelbie Turner and Karen Hooker wanted to delve deeper into the science behind self-perceptions of ageing.

“How we think about who we're going to be in old age is very predictive of exactly how we will be,” said Turner, who is co-author of the study and a doctoral student at Oregon State University's College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Optimism and self-efficacy

The researchers wanted to examine what influences SPA through conducting an analysis focusing on “optimism and self-efficacy associated with possible selves”.

Here, optimism refers to the general trait of being optimistic, and the other factor refers to whether the person believes they can become who they want to be in future. 

The researchers recruited 244 middle-aged and older adults to measure self-perceptions of ageing and optimism, by asking them whether or not they agree with statements like “Things keep getting worse as I get older”, “I have as much pep as I had last year” and “As you get older, you are less useful”. 

Survey responses from the older adults were used to measure self-efficacy, in which they expressed two “hoped for” (i.e. social, healthy and active) and two “feared” (i.e. sick and dependent on others) future ideas of themselves. 

Mind and body interwoven

Findings of the study indicate that higher levels of optimism are associated with a more positive self-perception of ageing. 

The researchers also stated that internalised stereotypes about ageing – such as old people being ill and forgetful – greatly influenced how people viewed their own ageing.

“People need to realise that some of the negative health consequences in later life might not be biologically driven. The mind and the body are all interwoven,” said co-author, Karen Hooker.

"If you believe these bad things are going to happen over time that can erode people's willingness, or maybe even eventually their ability to engage in those health behaviours that are going to keep them as healthy as they can be.”

Turner went on to say that often older people can do certain things better than younger people, and “the more you're around older people, the more you realise that it's not all bad”.

Image credit: Pexels

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