13 November 2012

Ageing And Dissonance

This is a perfect representation of how Ms. Lanny-yap is feeling these days --
young on the inside, decrepit on the outside.
Older people feel, on average, about 13 years younger than they really are, according to a new study of aging from the University of Michigan and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Researchers surveyed 516 people between the ages of 70 and 104 who were taking part in the ongoing Berlin Aging Study in Germany, asking a series of aging-related questions, including how old they typically feel compared to the age on their birth certificate. Although individual responses varied, the average gap between chronological age and subjective age was 13 years. Among study participants who were particularly healthy and active, the gap between subjective age and actual age was even wider.
Researchers say the data are important because cultural expectations of people during their older years often are at odds with how seniors perceive themselves. "We are somehow aged by the culture we live in," said Jacqui Smith, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "It’s about how we should look, when you should retire – sometimes those stereotypes are a little out of date." As children, we typically feel slightly older than we really are, in part because children long to take part in activities reserved for older teens and adults. But around age 25 to 30, our views of aging fall out of sync with our chronological age, and we begin to think of ourselves as younger than we really are, Dr. Smith said. Other studies have shown that people between the ages of 40 and 70 feel about 20 percent younger than they really are.
But the latest research focused on people generally in the last three decades of life. The aim was to gauge whether the aches and pains of getting older force us to face reality, causing our subjective age to finally catch up with our chronological age. The study showed that even the very old typically feel far younger than they really are. "This concept of how you feel about your age is so important and defines, in a way, how we act," Dr. Smith said. "If you self-define yourself as someone who is old, then you probably act that way."
Although we typically think of ourselves as younger than we really are, the study found that most people are not in denial about the aging process. During the course of the six-year study, people were asked about their perceptions of age three times. The subjective age wasn’t frozen in time, and instead aged with the years. Although the gap typically remained the same, the difference between chronological age and perceived age did begin to narrow as people became less healthy and drew closer to death. "It’s good for us to think we’re a little better than we actually are," Dr. Smith said. "It’s associated with feelings of hope and well-being."
New York Times

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