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Psychol Health. 2012;27(8):881-97. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2011.630735. Epub 2011 Dec 12.

Attributing illness to 'old age:' consequences of a self-directed stereotype for health and mortality.

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Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada.


Stereotypic beliefs about older adults and the aging process have led to endorsement of the myth that 'to be old is to be ill.' This study examined community-dwelling older adults' (Nā€‰=ā€‰105, age 80+) beliefs about the causes of their chronic illness (ie, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.), and tested the hypothesis that attributing the onset of illness to 'old age' is associated with negative health outcomes. A series of multiple regressions (controlling for chronological age, gender, income, severity of chronic conditions, functional status and health locus of control) demonstrated that 'old age' attributions were associated with more frequent perceived health symptoms, poorer health maintenance behaviours and a greater likelihood of mortality at 2-year follow-up. The probability of death was more than double among participants who strongly endorsed the 'old age' attribution as compared to those who did not (36% vs. 14%). Findings are framed in the context of self-directed stereotypes and implications for potential interventions are considered.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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