Summary: Contrary to expectations, the researchers found that older people who live in countries with a higher age bias had better health outcomes than those who lived in countries with less age bias. The study found that older people tend to live longer in countries with more negative attitudes towards the aging population.
According to researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who were surprised by the results, older people living in counties with a higher age bias had better health outcomes than those living in areas with less bias. of age.
“Quite the opposite of what we expected turned out,” says Allecia Reid, associate professor of social psychology and lead author of the paper published in the journal. Social sciences and medicine.
“Rather than dying earlier in counties with more negative attitudes toward older people, we actually found that older people lived longer in counties with more negative attitudes toward older people.”
Reid and his colleagues had based their hypothesis on previous research showing that minority groups, such as African Americans and sexual minorities, had worse health outcomes in counties with more negative attitudes toward their group.
“We believed, like these results, that in counties with more negative attitudes towards older people, we would see them likely to die earlier than in counties with more positive attitudes towards residents 65 and older,” said said Reid.
“Contrary to what we thought, something positive is happening in these ageist communities that is helping them live longer, healthier lives.”
The only other study known to have examined community-level age bias and health in older adults found that explicit age bias was associated with positive health behaviors in older adults, while the implicit bias was related to negative health behaviors in the elderly.
UMass Amherst researchers analyzed data from more than one million Americans who had reported their explicit bias and took an implicit bias test to measure their attitudes toward older adults between 2003 and 2018, as part of the Harvard University’s Implicit project. The researchers looked at responses to the question about explicit bias: To what extent do you prefer older adults to younger ones?
Choices ranged from 1 (“strongly prefer older adults”) to 7 (“strongly prefer younger adults”). Additionally, implicit age bias scores of individuals were available from the Implicit Association Test. The US county in which each participant lived was also available.
Based on this data, the team developed aggregate county-level estimates of the number of residents like the elderly. Then they linked that to county death rates for people ages 65 and older from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database. Counties with a higher explicit age bias had lower mortality, or 87.67 fewer deaths per 100,000 population. In contrast, implicit bias was not associated with mortality outcomes.
“The explicit age-mortality bias association was only evident in communities with younger populations, but did not depend on the ethnic makeup of the community,” the paper says.
Researchers looked at ways in which older communities could do things that helped maintain the health of older adults. They found that a greater explicit age bias was also associated with lower death rates among young and middle-aged adults in these counties, suggesting that any health benefits of living in aging communities can start accumulating earlier in life.
Additionally, “communities with a higher explicit age bias also had higher exercise rates…, better overall health… and more mentally healthy days,” the paper says.
These findings point to potential pathways through which ageist communities can promote health. However, the researchers also note that factors they were unable to examine, such as better medical care and more green space, may also explain associations between community age bias and better health. .
Reid says the surprising results point to more areas of scrutiny that can lead to improved longevity for all communities.
“Can we understand what is happening in these older communities that seem to potentially promote both better mental health and better longevity,” she says. “And if we can identify those things, then that’s a flag that all communities need to think about.”
About this aging and longevity research news
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Original research: Free access.
“Community-Level Age Bias and Older Adult Mortality” by Alexander J. Kellogg et al. Social sciences and medicine
Community-level age bias and old-age mortality
As the elderly population grows, it is increasingly important to understand the health effects of prejudice against the elderly. Whether structural forms of age-related bias predict poorer health has received limited attention.
We hypothesized that communities with a higher age bias would have higher mortality among residents aged 65 and older. We expected the association to be unique to age bias, rather than general bias (i.e., sexual minority and racial bias), and that the association age bias-mortality is strongest in predominantly white and younger communities.
Explicit and implicit attitudes towards older people (NOT = 1,001,735), sexual minorities (NOT= 791,966) and Black Americans (NOT= 2,255,808) were taken from Project Implicit. A post-stratification relative to US Census population data was performed to improve the representativeness of the explicit and implicit bias estimates at the county level. County elderly mortality, estimated cross-sectionally with and longitudinally with respect to bias scores, served as the outcome. The models controlled for relevant county-level covariates (e.g., median age) and included all U.S. counties (NOT= 3142).
Contrary to assumptions but consistent with previous work, explicit age-related bias was cross-sectionally and longitudinally associated with lowermortality, beyond covariates and generalized community bias. The explicit age bias-low mortality association only appeared in younger counties, but did not depend on the ethnic composition of the county. Implicit age bias was not associated with the results. Post-hoc analyzes have argued that ageist communities may be associated with better health across the lifespan. An explicit age-related bias predicted lower mortality in young and middle-aged adults; better mental health in middle adulthood, but not exercise or self-rated health, mediated the explicit age-mortality bias association of older adults.
The results highlight the uniqueness of old age compared to other stigmatized identities. Further examination of the association of community-level age bias with better health may improve longevity for all communities.
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