Aging & Health Perception

Aging and Health Perceptions

The good news about aging is that most people age relatively well. Aging changes happen so gradually that most are unnoticeable except over the long term. Adaptions necessary to maximize functioning are made regularly, and it's usually not until later that one will note aspects of their physical functioning decreased as compared to 10 to 20 years before.

Successful aging is not necessarily dependent on the absence of physiological disabilities, but embraces the realm of the psychosocial as well. So we recognize that seniors may demonstrate varying attitudes about their health status. It is not unusual for persons with relatively similar health problems to label themselves differently. For example, one may have numerous observable aging changes but consider himself to be in good health, while another person with the same or fewer problems and observable changes considers himself as ill or disabled.

Researchers find that older people generally have a positive view of their own health. In one study, older persons were asked to rate their health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. Thirty-nine percent of those over the age of 65 viewed their health as very good or excellent. Only 29 percent considered they were in fair or poor health. Even those over 85 years showed positive findings-31 percent considered themselves in very good or excellent health, with 36 percent viewing their health as poor.

In the study, men and women generally showed similar degrees of positiveness in their attitudes. Most notable were the differences among racial groups. Older African Americans were more likely than Caucasians to view their health as poor.

How do the researchers explain the differences between these positive perceptions of health and the reality of aging changes? They believe that it reflects a remarkably successful adaptation to disability. Society may view older persons as being frail and in poor health, but the seniors themselves don't agree with that viewpoint in spite of physical evidence to the contrary (Rowe & Kahn, 1998).

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.