Age Pride
A PLACE TO LEARN ABOUT HOW YOUR MINDSET MATTERS

     Welcome to Dr. Sterling's Age Pride Web Site!

    AgePride.org is a division of DearShrink.com, a well-known Internet Mental Health Center created and maintained by Ron Sterling, M.D., a Seattle, Washington, General and Geriatric Psychiatrist. For more information about Dr. Sterling, please go to his Biography Page.

    The mission of the Age Pride Web site is to provide information and resources for understanding ageism and advocating for a different mindset about the aging process and older adults. Dr. Sterling starts this page with an answer to a reader question about health and happiness. Further below are links to, among other things, resources about ageism, attitudes and health, the psychology of retirement, and forgiveness.


Our Mindset Matters


    Dear Dr. Ron:

      It seems to me that it is an over-simplification to say that happy or optimistic people are healthier people. Could it be that people who have a better genetic inheritance for health would obviously have less health-related problems and would likely be happier people because of that? Which comes first, the good health or the happiness? -- Signed: Doubting Conventional Wisdom.

    Dear Doubting:

      Thank you for writing! You pose a good question, given that we are in the midst of an era in which there is a strong emphasis on willpower, discipline, and personal responsibility. Blame it on the baby boomers, I suppose. More than any other generation, they tend to think that they can be as young as they feel. Older folks may dismiss that kind of thinking as "hogwash." They have already experienced the aging process, and they may often tell you that growing older is not that much fun.

      The truth, however, is somewhere in between. You can't be as young as you feel, but research has found that ageist attitudes can influence how soon you might develop signs of frailty -- slower walk, decreased grip strength, weight loss, and easy exhaustion. In a study published in 2004, researchers reported their findings from following 1,600 Mexican-Americans aged 65 and older in the Galveston, Texas, for seven years. They found that older adults who had more positive attitudes were significantly less likely to develop signs of frailty. In other words, the more pessimistic you are about life and aging, the more rapidly you will decline physically.

      In another study published in late 2004, researchers in North Carolina demonstrated that negative stereotypes about aging had a profound impact on memory tests. When older adults were exposed to negative words related to aging such as "cranky," "feeble," and "senile," they had a more difficult time with memory tests. However, their memory test performance was enhanced by pre-test exposure to positive words such as "accomplished," "dignified," and "knowledgeable."

      "Ageism" is a belief system that stereotypes any age group, young or old, on the basis of so-called "age" issues. With respect to older adults, ageism is often manifested by beliefs that as you age you become more disabled, more prone to illness, less intelligent, less useful, less active, and less attractive. An example of negative ageism behavior might be an older person being called "cranky" when they are expressing a legitimate dislike, while a younger person might not be called cranky for the same statement of discontent.

      Ageism is perpetuated in popular culture through such things as birthday cards which decry the advance of age, or through negative images of older people in advertisements and television programs. Institutions perpetuate ageism by not hiring or promoting older workers. Ageism is based on distorted or inaccurate information. In a sense, because our life expectancy has increased so quickly in the United States, our cultural beliefs are lagging way behind our biological advances.

      Consider the issue of illness in older persons. Are they more sick and disabled than younger persons? Half of Americans think that poor health is a "very serious problem" for most people over age 65. Fact: 78% of those over age 65 are healthy. While more persons over 65 have chronic illnesses that limit their activity (43%) than do younger persons (10%), older adults have fewer acute illnesses, fewer injuries and fewer accidents. The list of distorted beliefs about older adults includes stereotypes about sexual behavior, ugliness, mental decline, mental illness, uselessness, poverty, depression, and isolation.

      Counseling professionals have known for years that our beliefs influence us. In fact, they can influence us so strongly that we will often set things up so we can produce a result the supports our belief. It is a very strong human trait that influences us to interpret data to keep our beliefs. It is called "bias." Scientists try to counter their biases by doing double-blind studies, so they will have less of an opportunity to force research results to fit their preconceived theories.

      I think the North Carolina and Texas studies help us to more clearly understand that our mindsets and beliefs about aging do influence how we age and can impact our physical health and mental functioning. We each have different biological inheritances. We each can maximize what we have been given by examining our mindsets and altering beliefs that may set us up for a physical decline before our time.

      I hope this is helpful. For more information about ageism and aging concerns and issues, please see links posted further below. -- Best wishes, Dr. Ron.

        Author Bio:

        Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 60 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to DrRon. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about DrRon and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. The content offered through Mind Matters is for information only and is not intended for medical, psychiatric, or psychological diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this column. Read our Disclaimer. If you wish to understand more about Dr. Sterling's potential biases in health care advocacy, please check his Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Statement

     Links to Ageism Information and Resources.

     Age-Related Advocacy Organizations and News.

    The "Positive Aging Act of 2004" was introduced by Representative Patrick Kennedy, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Susan Collins and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a press conference on Capitol Hill on June 24, 2004. This bi-partisan legislation calls for improved mental health care among the senior population. Read more about this legislation:

    • Older Americans Consumer Mental Health Alliance. One of OACMHA's primary missions is to decrease fear in older persons of mental health stigma by increasing public awareness and knowledge of the special mental health needs and problems of older persons, including alternative solutions and approaches to services and treatments needed by this population group.

    • Older Women's League. See their mental health advocacy pages at Older Americans Mental Health Week. As the only national grassroots membership organization to focus solely on issues unique to women as they age, the Older Women's League (OWL) strives to improve the status and quality of life for midlife and older women.

    • Alliance of Retired Americans. The Alliance is not a senior citizens social club and it is not an organization formed to sell you things. It is a way for retired union members and others to make their voices heard.

    • The National Council on Aging. Founded in 1950, The National Council on the Aging is a national network of organizations and individuals dedicated to improving the health and independence of older persons.

    • The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) contains updated information about older adult mental health which will benefit both providers and consumers.

    • The Gray Panthers. The Gray Panthers is a national organization of intergenerational activists dedicated to social change. Founded in 1970 by social activist Maggie Kuhn, Gray Panthers believe that all Americans should benefit from this country's abundance.

    • Experience Works. Experience Works is a national, nonprofit organization that provides training and employment services for mature workers. Established in 1965 as Green Thumb, and renamed Experience Works in 2002, the organization reaches more than 125,000 mature individuals in all 50 states and Puerto Rico each year.

     Larger Public and Commercial Elder Information Web Sites.

    • The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) prides itself on being "the leading organization for those older than 50."

    • ThirdAge.com has been on the Web since 1997. It is a large senior health care and relationship Web site. If you can overlook the somewhat over-commercialized aspect of ThirdAge.com, you can find some great resources and advice columns.

    • SeniorHealthCare.org is a nicely organized, smaller site, with experts providing articles on various aspects of elder life, including ageism, alcoholism, and depression.

    • About.com's Senior Health Center Web pages are hosted and contain updated information and links.

    • HealthandAge.com is the Novartis Foundation for Gerontology site (Novartis is a large pharmaceutical manufacturer - products include Exelon for Alzheimer's, Tegretol for epilepsy and agitation, Ritalin for ADHD and narcolepsy, among many others).

    • The Administration on Aging (AoA) is a federal Web site sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services which contains a huge amount of information and links.

    • Seniors is FirstGov's large, federal Web site which lists most older adult agencies, including links to state agencies, and provides news and advice links about Medicare, retirement, and more.

     The Psychology of Retirement.

     Interpersonal Forgiveness and Mental Wellness.

    Please go to our All About Forgiveness Web page to view links to information, articles, organizations and individuals dedicated to helping us understand the power and the psychological principles of the process of interpersonal forgiveness. Recent research has helped us focus on how forgiveness can contribute to our mental wellness.

     Thank You for Stopping By!

    Please check back often for updated information.

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RON STERLING, M.D.
General and Geriatric Psychiatry
SeniorMentalHealth.org
Phone: 206-784-7842
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Updated October 7, 2007
Copyright 2000-2007. Ron Sterling, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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