How can we measure Self-Directed Ageing Stereotypes in Older Adults?

Dr Sarah Dean and Dr Amy Burton tell us about their Staffordshire University REF 2020 research scheme funded project into self-directed ageing stereotypes in older adults. The research was carried out with research assistant Weyinmi Demeyin and graduate Jessica Reeves.

Dr Sarah Dean and Dr Amy Burton

The population is ageing, but while average life expectancy continues to increase, healthy life expectancy has not necessarily matched this. Health psychologists are interested in health across the lifespan and we wanted to explore health in older adulthood to identify some of the barriers to healthy ageing, specifically those relating to ageing stereotypes.

There are lots of stereotypes surrounding ageing, which are often very negative. If an older adult internalises these negative stereotypes, meaning that they believe them to be true for themselves, this may have a negative effect on their health and wellbeing.

To explore ageing stereotypes in older adults we needed a way of measuring if people had internalised these beliefs. We found that lots of different measures existed and it was unclear which was the best measure to use. Therefore, we carried out a systematic review to identify measures of self-directed ageing stereotype in older adults and to evaluate their quality.

We identified 109 papers for inclusion in our review. Over 25 different terms were used to describe internalisation of ageing stereotypes in older adults. We therefore suggest that for consistency the term “self-directed ageing stereotype” is used and we found 40 different measures of this existed.

The most commonly used measures were the Philadelphia Geriatric Centre Morale Scale Attitude Towards Own Ageing (ATOA) subscale, Ageing Perceptions Questionnaire (APQ) and Attitudes to Ageing Questionnaire. However, although it was the most frequently used, the ATOA was developed to measure morale in older adults and not self-directed ageing stereotypes.

Across measures, poor reporting of psychometric properties made it difficult to assess scale quality and more research is needed to fully assess measures before conclusions can be drawn as to the best tool; however, the Brief-APQ appears to hold most promise. Future research must address this issue before interventions to reduce negative self-directed ageing stereotypes can be developed and fully evaluated. Our research also highlighted the importance of researchers making sure that the measure they have chosen is suitable for their purpose.

We are really pleased that our article has been published in the European Journal of Ageing. The article can be accessed here if you would like to read about the research in more detail (DOI: 10.1007/s10433-020-00574-7).

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