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Senior Health

Aging - Denial and Fear

Let's face it, people are denying aging like never before. We live in a society that favors youth. Over the years, anti-aging has become a multi-billion dollar industry offering everything from creams and surgeries, to products such as Botox® and Rogaine®, and other so-called wonder treatments. While many of us make personal choices to enhance our appearance (e.g., hair coloring), that is not the issue. Our concern is when people equate aging to disease and pathology as that is incorrect.

Many segments of our society hold negative attitudes toward older adults. Literature suggests that negative attitudes toward the aging process and older adults themselves adversely affect the care and support provided to older people. A few commonly used terms that reinforce the negative attitudes and beliefs that influence feelings and behaviors regarding older people include:

According to Cummings (2000), "Aging anxiety is related to negative stereotypes of older adults, perceptions of younger adults that these problems are likely to happen in their own future." Indicators of aging anxiety includes worrying about:

Perspective is a powerful influence on attitudes and behavior. If we hold mostly negative views about aging, this perspective will influence our interactions with older people. Health care professionals need to have adequate training in gerontology for reasons such as:

A quick and simple way to gauge your perspective on youth and age is to look at the picture to the right. Do you see an elderly woman or a young girl? If you cannot see the older woman, you are not alone. The older person is often invisible in our society.

Education is key to changing attitudes and influencing perceptions of aging and older people. The first step is recognizing negative attitudes and feelings in ourselves. We need to be aware of our own attitudes that may be based on myths or misperceptions rather than the realities of aging. Research indicates "accurate aging information has been found an effective intervention in reducing stereotypes and improving attitudes toward aging" (Miller, 2004). Dr. Phil McGraw, a popular psychologist and life coach, believes that acknowledgement is critical to ANY attitude and behavior change. He states: You cannot change what you do not acknowledge!


Recommended Resource

Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development: There really is an Encyclopedia of Ageism! Check out this website for further information on this excellent resource edited by Dr. Erdman Palmore, an international guru in gerontology.



  1. Palmore, E. (1972). Gerontophobia vs ageism. The Gerontologist, 12, 213.
  2. Lynch, S. M. (2000) Measurement and prediction of aging anxiety. Research on Aging, 22, 533-588.
  3. Cummings, S. M., Kropf, N. P., & DeWeaver, K. L. (2000). Knowledge of and attitudes toward aging among non-elders, Journal of Women and Aging, 12(1/2), 77-91.
  4. Best Practices in Care of Older Adults, National Institute of Geriatric Nursing, John A. Hartford Foundation, Undergraduate Curriculum, (2002).
  5. Miller, C. A. (2004). Nursing for Wellness in Older Adults: Theory and Practice. New York: Lippincott William & Wilkins.

GERO GEMS are a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues affecting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

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Go to the Senior Health health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: Dec 05, 2008

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati