In a feature story Oct. 19, Wall Street Journal reporter Anne Tergesen reported that negative stereotypes about getting older can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Interviewing some of the leading national experts on aging and ageism, including Dr. Bill Thomas, the story examines how to improve your mind-set about your own aging and in turn your well-being.
Scientists are discovering something very peculiar about aging: How we feel about getting old matters. A lot.
In test after test, researchers are finding that if we think about getting older in terms of decline or disability, our health likely will suffer. If, on the other hand, we see aging in terms of opportunity and growth, our bodies respond in kind.
That research holds out the possibility for much healthier aging. But it also points to a very big obstacle: Negative stereotypes about aging are pervasive in America. Even many older adults embrace the idea that getting old is a bad thing—which means they’re doing potentially serious harm to their health without realizing it.
A growing number of organizations are pointing out prejudices and stereotypes and helping people overcome them. ChangingAging.org, a nonprofit based in Ithaca, N.Y., sponsors initiatives including “Age of Disruption Tour,” a show currently traveling the country that mixes music with lectures about overcoming aging stereotypes.
The solution may sound trite, but experts say it’s crucial: “To embrace aging—both the good and bad,” says geriatrician Bill Thomas, co-founder of ChangingAging.org.
Dr. Thomas says it’s important to look not just at the negative changes that take place as we age but also at the positives, such as the improvements scientific studies have shown over time in our interpersonal skills, relationships, expertise and knowledge. While it’s important to accept the negatives—you may, for example, no longer be the runner or tennis player you once were—that doesn’t mean you cannot adapt your game or find other outlets with similar payoffs.
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