Yale study: Ageism can harm your health

January 23, 2020

You are only as old as you feel—or as other people make you feel, based on findings of a study conducted at the Yale School of Public Health in collaboration with the Yale Psychology Department.

In the largest examination to date of the health consequences of ageism, or age-based bias to date—informed by the input of over 7 million participants—researchers have found evidence that it harms the health of older people in 45 countries and across five continents.

Yale Professor Becca Levy was asked by the World Health Organization to lead the analysis as part of its newly launched Global Campaign to Combat Ageism.

Her analysis was based on a systematic review of 422 studies carried out around the world. Remarkably, she found evidence of the adverse effects of ageism on older persons in 96% of the studies.

“The injurious reach of ageism that our team documented demonstrates the need for initiatives to overcome ageism,” said Levy, the study’s senior author.

The Yale School of Public Health study is the first systematic review of ageism to simultaneously consider structural-level ageism, such as denied access to health care, and individual-level ageism, such as the power of stress-inducing negative age stereotypes assimilated from culture to affect the health of older persons.

The Yale team found evidence that ageism led to worse outcomes in a number of mental health conditions, including depression, and a number of physical health conditions, including shorter life expectancy. Ten studies showed that when older persons assimilate negative age stereotypes from the culture, they have a shorter life expectancy. This survival finding, which was originally identified by Levy in previous research, was later found by the studies of others in multiple countries—including Australia, Germany, and China.

In the current study, Levy and her team found that ageism adversely affected whether or not older patients received medical treatment and, if they received the treatment, the duration, frequency, and appropriateness of the treatment provided. Evidence of denied access to health care treatments was found in 85% of all relevant studies. In 92% of the international studies of health care students and professionals, there were indications of ageism in medical decisions, and this trend has increased over time, said the researchers.

This systematic review also found ageism affected older persons regardless of their age, sex, and racial/ethnic membership.

 The study appears in the January 17 editition of the PLOS ONE journal.

Research contact: @Yale

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