Stereotypes in Late Adulthood: Factors of Ageism & Counter-Tactics

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  • 0:02 Late Adulthood
  • 0:47 Ageism & Elderspeak
  • 2:29 Physical & Mental Decline
  • 4:59 Depression
  • 6:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

As people age, they often have to confront stereotypes that others hold about late life, and some that they themselves hold about older adults. In this lesson, we'll look at stereotypes and the truth about late adulthood.

Late Adulthood

Liv will be 70 next year, and she's seeing some changes in her life. Recently, she was let go from her job because they wanted a younger person in her position. This has caused her to feel depressed; she feels blue all the time and has trouble getting out of bed some days.

Liv is in late adulthood, which is the time of life after age 65. During that time, many people face changes with aging. But the changes that people go through during late adulthood aren't the only challenges they face. They also often have to deal with stereotypes, or a widely held belief about a group of people.

Let's look closer at some of the stereotypes of aging and the truth about late adulthood.

Ageism and Elderspeak

Remember Liv? She was let go from her job because of her age. This is an example of ageism, which is discrimination against people of older age.

Ageism often occurs in the workplace, like Liv has faced. But ageism can happen in many different ways and in many different places. For example, one of Liv's favorite restaurants is a little bistro downtown. They have a tendency to put young, attractive diners in the window of the restaurant and place older people near the back of the restaurant, because they believe that having the younger people on display will attract more customers.

Another common example of an ageist activity is elderspeak, or the tendency to speak in baby talk to older adults. Elderspeak is especially common towards adults living in nursing homes and can feel very demeaning to the older adults at whom it is directed. Some studies have linked elderspeak with negative stereotypes and negative treatment of adults in late adulthood, and there's no reason to talk to older adults any differently than you would talk to any adult.

Stereotypes about older adults are cultural. For example, in some Eastern cultures, particularly ones that rely on agriculture, older adults are seen as the pinnacle of society. They are revered for their wisdom. Of course, not all older adults are wise, so this is an example of a positive stereotype.

But ageism, including elderspeak, commonly emerges from negative stereotypes held in the United States and other Western, industrialized nations. These stereotypes might include that older adults are stupid or have lost their ability to think like younger adults.

Physical and Mental Decline

In fact, there are many negative stereotypes about the decline associated with old age. They often involve the idea that all old people will get dementia and lose their memories, or the idea that older adults can't learn, like in the expression 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks.'

Take Liv's situation at work. The ageism she experienced was based on the idea that older people aren't as smart or capable as younger people. But is that a true stereotype?

As we said, many people believe that most, or even all, older adults will end up with dementia, which is a loss of cognitive functioning, like extreme memory loss or a decline in decision-making or problem-solving skills. Liv's bosses believed that, because she was pushing 70, she was destined to end up with dementia and not be able to do her job.

But the truth is that only about six to eight percent of adults over age 65 have dementia, and only about 1/3 of adults over 85 have it. While there is a slight decline in some types of thinking skills, there is an increase in other types, so many older adults are able to think in different, but not necessarily inferior, ways.

Not only that, but physical and mental exercises can combat issues with cognition, including memory loss and other thinking skills. So, if Liv works out her body and mind, through things like doing crossword puzzles or taking a class to learn a new skill, she can continue to have a sharp mind right up until the end of her life.

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