Negative stereotypes about older adults are pervasive. Older adults are more depressed than younger persons. They are more lonely, afraid, and vulnerable. They are grumpy. Even older adults hold negative ideas about older adults.
Indeed, older people take pains to distinguish themselves from their peers. They perceive themselves to be the exception to the rule. It is as if they think, “Yes, aging is lousy but not for me. I am feeling well, balanced, and overall pretty positive.”
The thing is, this person is not the exception. Older adults report the best overall emotional well-being than at any other time in adulthood. They have fewer negative emotions than younger persons. They feel less sad, angry, tense, and fearful. They experience fewer low energy emotional states and less depletion. They feel less down, lethargic, droopy, and sluggish.
Older adults also experience just as many positive emotions as younger persons. They report joy, delight, and excitement. They experience more serenity and calmness than adults at early stages of life.
If you are a healthy older adult, your emotional resources may be at their lifetime peak.
Undesirable stereotypes about aging are so entrenched that data to the contrary are called paradoxical. Indeed, this is the Paradox of Aging. But it is no longer a surprise that older adults report strong emotional well-being, at least to researchers. Indeed, these data are old news. Gerontologists have known about the emotional benefits of being a healthy older adult for many years.
Now it is incumbent on the scientific community to challenge the negative stereotypes of older adult that pervade our society. Negative stereotypes are harmful to the physical and emotional health of the individual. They also are harmful to communities because we are losing the opportunity to capitalize on the “emotional wealth” in older adults. Who better to serve as mentors, tutors, teachers, companions, advisors, sounding boards, and friends?
My research lab is launching a series of studies and articles about aging stereotypes and how to counteract them. I look forward to sharing results and ideas in blogs to come.