Your perceptions of aging impact your long-term outcome. The World Health Organization identified ageism as a “prevalent and insidious” health threat based on research demonstrating how negative expectations about aging are associated with poor health outcomes and early death. For example, a study controlling other health variables found that middle-aged people with a pessimistic outlook about aging die on average 7.5 years younger than those with an optimistic view.
Expectations about aging create a lens through which you filter experience. A pessimistic view will cause you to take extra notice of those around you who are struggling as they age; whereas an optimistic aging perspective will highlight resilient older adults, leaving you feeling more hopeful. Who you notice is determined by your mind’s aging filter. You perceive and think about ideas that fit with your views, while ignoring conflicting information.
Actively orient your mind to resilient aging and be open to how things can improve later in life. Research shows that older people generally are happier, defying the stereotype of aging as depressing. Studies also show that most older adults are physically and cognitively resilient, able to maintain and regain their functioning. But these realities are obscured as we are all inundated by ageist messages. The greeting card section of your grocery store is especially dangerous. Seemingly harmless jokes about adult diapers and dementia fuel ageism and unconsciously shape how you view yourself as you age.
Prejudice about aging can cause you to give up on yourself as you get older. Your view of aging impacts your essential lifestyle choices, including how you recover—or don’t— from health setbacks. If you think of aging as a slow, inevitable decline, you will respond passively to health problems, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you focus on the research about resilient aging, you will see health problems as a temporary setback and work to regain your health.
To combat ageism and other forms of prejudice, become aware of your mind’s filters. We all have biases, but the sooner we observe them in action, the sooner we can change our pre-judgments by actively looking for conflicting information. Find your optimistic aging inspirations – older people who are happy, vigorous and engaged in life on their own terms. (For lots of fun examples of resilient aging, check out Growing Bolder.)
You experience what you expect to experience. Cultivate your optimistic aging mindset so that you feel hopeful and willing to do the work to set yourself up for a bright future!