Stereotypes About Aging Can Negatively Affect Older Adults’ Performances on Cognitive and Functional Abilities

Hearing and memory are both critical aspects of older adults’ daily communication and social interactions.  A deeper understanding about how aging affects performance in these areas calls for an exploration of.  A recent study conducted at the University of Toronto and published in the journal Psychology and Aging, explored the relationships between perceptions of aging, self-perceived abilities, and performance on tasks involving memory and hearing.  The associations between these social variables had previously never been studied before among the older adult population.  The study found that when older adults possess negative perceptions about aging, their confidence in their abilities to hear and remember things may diminish, resulting in poor performance at both.

According to Alison Chasteen, a psychology professor at the university and lead author of the study, “People’s feelings about getting older influence their sensory and cognitive functions.” She says that those feelings are often founded by stereotypes about aging and remarks made by people around them about their hearing and memory losses.  Thus, Chasteen and her team decided to take a more broad approach when exploring the factors that affect older adults’ everyday lives.

The researchers found that older adults who perceived their aging process negatively and believed that their hearing and memory abilities were failing performed poorly on hearing and memory tests.  “That’s not to say all older adults who demonstrate poor capabilities for hearing and memory have negative views of aging,” Chasteen says.  “It’s not that negative views on aging cause poor performance in some functions, there is simply a strong correlation between the two when a negative view impacts an individual’s confidence in the ability to function.”

The views older adults have on their functional abilities and how they feel about aging must be taken into account when determining the status of their cognitive and sensory functions.  The fact that changing older adults’ perceptions about themselves improves their hearing and cognitive abilities must be taken into consideration when developing interventions to enhance older adults’ quality of life.