Study: Ageism affects health outcomes in the elderly

September 27, 2016

Humana and UCS study shows prevalence of ageism in film and the power of embracing a healthy mindset for healthy aging

Ageism is a social determinant of health, and may negatively impact health outcomes for aging Americans, according to a new study from Humana and the University of Southern California (USC).

UCS’s film research and Humana’s quantitative survey, showed that few characters aged 60 and older are represented in film, and prominent senior characters face demeaning or ageist references.

Beveridge

“These negative and stereotypical media portrayals do not reflect how aging Americans see themselves, or their lifestyles,” according to Managed Healthcare Executive advisor Roy Beveridge, MD, chief medical officer, Humana. “[The] survey showed that many are engaged in their communities and optimistic about aging. In fact, those who are more optimistic report having better health.”

There is growing evidence to suggest that ageism is a social determinant of health, and may negatively impact health outcomes for aging Americans, according to Beveridge.

To explore society’s attitudes and beliefs around aging, Humana partnered with Stacy L. Smith, PhD, and her team at the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School, where they’re leading the conversation around diversity and inclusion in cinema. 

“Humana wants people to be healthy so they can pursue what’s important to them in life, and we know that cultural attitudes can have an impact on the health of aging Americans,” Beveridge says.

Other key findings include:

· Aging Americans surveyed think they’re not represented very accurately in film, television and other media-on average they rate the accuracy level as five or less on a 10-point scale.

· Those aging Americans who do believe that media accurately portrays them think about aging more than average, and have a higher level of fear around aging than their peers.

· Aging Americans who rate themselves as very optimistic about aging tend to be the most active physically, socially and in their communities.

· The most optimistic about aging feel healthier in general, and feel on average 12 years younger than their actual age (those who are least optimistic feel on average 7 years older than their actual age).

· They also report a much lower number of physically unhealthy days on average: just 2.84 for the most optimistic, compared to 12.55 physically unhealthy days for the least optimistic.

“The study showed that there is a clear link between optimism and reported feelings of health,” Beveridge says.

Humana’s quantitative survey found that aging Americans who rate themselves as very optimistic tend to be the most active physically, socially and in their communities.

“On the flip side, seniors with an optimistic view of their place in the world perceive themselves as 12 years younger than their biological age and report feeling unhealthy fewer than three days a month,” he says. “These levels of concern could potentially require more time and personalized care from managed healthcare executives.”

Acknowledging that an implicit bias against aging Americans exists is key, according to Beveridge.

“It’s clear from the USC team’s analysis that seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and demeaned by ageist language, and from Humana’s own survey and other studies, that cultural attitudes can have an impact on the health of aging Americans,” he says. “We know the importance of embracing a healthy mindset for healthy aging, and we must help aging Americans defy stereotypes and embrace an optimistic mindset in order to achieve their best health.”