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Looking down on the elderly raises chance of heart attack

Young people who have a negative attitude towards old people are more likely later in life, when they themselves are grey and wrinkled, to have a stroke or heart attack than peers who have a positive image of the elderly. A negative view of old age works against you as you age, researchers at Yale School of Public Health discovered.

Age stereotype

In the early 1950s the psychologists Jacob Tuckman and Irving Lorge [PubMed] designed a questionnaire which measures young people's attitudes to the elderly. The Attitudes Toward Older People Scale, as it's called, was derived from existing surveys designed to measure the prejudices of white people about coloured people. Respondents have to indicate the extent to which they agree with the statements.

Looking down on the elderly raises chance of heart attack
If your answers show that you regard elderly people as thinking slowly, no longer lucid, dependent on care, no longer able to take care of themselves, better off not having contact with young people, and that you do not feel at ease in their company, then you are a Negative Age Stereotype.

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging started in 1968 in the US. Researchers surveyed hundreds of people living in Baltimore, with an average age of 36, recorded the data and followed the participants for many years. This study provided the Yale researchers with data from almost four hundred men and women, all of whom had completed the Attitudes Toward Older People Scale in 1968. They followed these participants until 2007.

During this period 89 of the participants suffered from a 'cardiovascular event' a stroke or heart attack. When the researchers divided the participants into people with a positive [Positive Age Stereotypes] and those with a negative image of the elderly [Negative Age Stereotypes] they found there was a correlation.

Young people who have a negative attitude towards old age are more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke when they themselves are older. The researchers do not speculate about why this might be so.

"The strength of the association between negative age stereotypes and risk of cardiovascular events in the final model is notable", they write. "If an individual's age stereotypes became more negative by one point, the risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event would increase by 11 percent. Conversely, if an individual's age stereotypes increased in positivity by two standard deviations on the age-stereotype scale, this would lead to an 80 percent reduction in the risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event."

Psychol Sci. 2009 Mar; 20(3): 296-8.

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