When they get older logo

How do you view ageing?

It’s worth examining our assumptions about the process of getting old to see if they’re more negative that we’d like to think.

How do you view the process of ageing? Maybe trying to support your parents to be independent on the one hand, but not actually trusting them to look after themselves and make sensible decisions on the other?

According to some US research*, as much as we think we want to see getting older in a positive light for our parents, we still attribute negative stereotypes to them that aren’t helping.

Talking to people over 80, their carers and their families, the researchers found that society continues to devalue old age, especially in the US where individualism, self-reliance and independence are highly valued. Researcher Michelle Barnhart of Oregon State University points out that “Almost every stereotype we associate with being elderly is something negative, from being ‘crotchety’ and unwilling to change to being forgetful”.

According to the research, it’s “consumption activities” such as buying groceries and attending medical appointments that identify someone as being old. They are also the places where conflict arises precisely because older people don’t see themselves as “elderly” in the way that others around them do. To assert their own identity they might argue, try to perform some activities that they’d be better off getting help with, or even shut out their own families to make a point. One interviewee refused to take her daughters with her to medical appointments after the doctor insisted on talking to her children rather than the patient herself.

Have you winced while reading this? Do you have a tendency to take over when your parent is really quite capable – just slower? Do you have tips for respecting your parent’s right not to be treated like an old codger? Let us know with a comment below.

*There’s more on this report on the Science Blog. The full paper is due to be published in April 2013 in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Share this article:
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x