Listening to stereotypes of aging could have negative effects

Commonly referred to as “senior moments,” short lapses in memory are often seen as a lighthearted side effects of growing older. However, recent research from the University of Southern California, Davis suggests that perpetuating these stereotypes may actually harm seniors’ memory even further. The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, support the concept of stereotype threat, which stipulates that a group tends to self handicap when it hears stereotypes of its demographic.

Shifting beliefs
The results are based on a study in which researchers asked participants between the ages of 59 and 79 to complete a memory test. One group was asked to perform the test after having read a fabricated news story about the poor cognitive performances of older adults. The team found that participants who were confronted with negative stereotypes about them scored about 20 percent worse on the tests, compared to those who were not exposed to the news stories. Researchers say the findings highlight the importance of seniors having a positive view of growing older.

“Older adults should be careful not to buy into negative stereotypes about aging – attributing every forgetful moment to getting older can actually worsen memory problems,” said Sarah Barber, a postdoctoral researcher at USC Davis and lead author of the study.

Reason to be hopeful
While the concept that cognitive performance tends to decline as people get older is common, there is a growing amount of research that suggests seniors’ brains are capable of staying sharp through smart memory care, a healthy diet and staying mentally and physically active. One of the most recent studies suggests that seniors who drink hot cocoa may be able to boost their brain power. The trial was performed at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and suggests that the flavonoids found in chocolate could provide cognitive benefits. The results have been met with considerable applause from those in the medical community.

“This well-designed, placebo-controlled trial offers new findings in that it links neurovascular coupling, a measure of brain blood flow and neural activity, to improved cognitive abilities in people consuming a popular flavonoid-rich food, cocoa,” Gary W. Small, M.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study, told MedPage Today.