Improving Attitudes Regarding the Elderly

Improving Attitudes Regarding the Elderly - The...

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511 Copyright 2001 by The Gerontological Society of America The Gerontologist Vol. 41, No. 4, 511–515 Vol. 41, No. 4, 2001 Improving Attitudes Regarding the Elderly Population: The Effects of Information and Reinforcement for Change Amie M. Ragan, PhD, 1 and Anne M. Bowen, PhD 2 Purpose: Altering negative attitudes associated with age- ism may be possible by giving people accurate informa- tion about older people in conjunction with reinforcement for change. Design and Methods: Ninety-nine college students (35 men, 63 women; mean age ± 20 years, SD ± 2.78) participated in one of three groups: information only, information plus an innocuous discussion group, and information plus a reinforcement-to-change discussion group. The participants’ attitudes toward elderly people were measured before, immediately after the interven- tion, and at a one-month follow-up. Changes in attitudes across groups and time were analyzed using analysis of variance (ANOVA) and t tests. Results: Information alone produced initial improvements in attitudes in all groups; however, only the group members who received additional reinforcement for change maintained positive attitude changes at one-month follow-up. Implications: This study supports the premise that negative attitudes to- ward older people are amendable; however, the new at- titude may be lost without reinforcement for change. Key Words: Ageism, Discrimination, Prejudice The noted gerontologist Robert Butler introduced the term “ageism” more than 30 years ago. He re- ferred to ageism as a kind of discrimination, similar to racism and sexism, directed toward elderly people (Butler, 1969). Ageism often results in the attitude that older people are unproductive, sickly, depress- ing, and that cognitive impairment is normative (Os- good, 1996; Palmore, 1999). A few of the most prev- alent outcomes of ageism for older people are isolation from the community, inadequate housing and income, unnecessary institutionalization, un- treated mental and physical illnesses, and suicide (Healy, 1993; Palmore, 1999). Ageism needs to be confronted and overcome, as the problems faced by elderly people are problems for our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and other older people in our lives, as well as ourselves. One dilemma in combating ageism is that many older people attribute age-related discrimination to other causes. For instance, many older people of eth- nic minority backgrounds cite their ethnicity, before their age, as a probable cause for discrimination (McNeely & Cohen, 1983). Women are likely to at- tribute discriminatory behavior to sexism before age- who have experienced ageism in the job market often attribute the discrimination to outdated skills (Atch- ley, 1994). Additionally, “elderly” is a relative term (Atchley, 1994), and Bernard M. Baruch once said, “to me, old age is always fifteen years older than I 182). This leaves few people willing to identify them-
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Improving Attitudes Regarding the Elderly - The...

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