The September International Psychogeriatrics Article of the Month is entitled ‘Life course influences of physical and cognitive function and personality on attitudes to aging in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936’ by Susan D. Shenkin, Ken Laidlaw, Mike Allerhand, Gillian E. Mead, John M. Star and Ian J. Deary.
The population is ageing, with the proportion of people worldwide aged over 60 rising from 8% in 1950, to 10% in 2000 and 21% in 2050 1. This has led to widespread concern about the negative impact this may have on society. We were interested in exploring whether older people themselves share this negative view of ageing, or whether they might have a more positive outlook. We were also interested to explore what factors throughout their life predicted their attitudes to ageing.
We were able to do this using a group of people who have had detailed information collected about them throughout their life, and asking them to complete (another!) questionnaire. This freely available questionnaire 2 has been widely used to assess the experience and attitudes of older people themselves to ageing. It includes questions in three main areas called Psychosocial Loss (e.g. “Old age is a time of loneliness”), Physical Change (e.g. “I don’t feel old”), and Psychological Growth (e.g. “Wisdom comes with age”), which people scored from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’.
The group of people who completed the questionnaire were the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 3. These are people born in 1936 who sat a nationwide test of intelligence when they were aged 11, and have gone on to provide very detailed information about their life, including their health and cognition now they are older.
We found that these people (aged around 75, 51.4% male) were generally positive about the three aspects of ageing. When we explored what predicted these attitudes, we were surprised to find that their social background, IQ test scores and physical health didn’t relate very much to their attitudes. In general, the strongest predictors of their attitudes to ageing was their personality. Personality type is determined by a questionnaire 4.
Psychosocial loss (e.g. “I feel excluded from things” was more common in people with personalities stronger on Neuroticism, and lower on Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, but also people with higher scores on a questionnaire assessing anxiety and depression, and people with more physical disability.
Physical Change (e.g. “My health is better than I expected”) was predicted by people with personality types of Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, but also females, social class and less physical disability.
Psychological growth (e.g. “I am more accepting of myself”) was associated with similar personality types, but surprisingly a less affluent environment, living alone, lower prior cognitive ability and slower walking speed.
In general, in this group of relatively healthy volunteers in Scotland aged around 75 we found a positive attitude to ageing. These attitudes were mostly associated with personality type, but social circumstances, physical health and mood also played a role. It will be interesting to explore whether attitudes are similar or different in other groups e.g. in people with poorer physical or mental health, in different countries etc. An intriguing possibility is whether influencing people’s attitudes is possible, and might result in changes to mood or physical health. However, it is clear that we should all share a more positive view of our ageing society.
The full paper “Life course influences of physical and cognitive function and personality on attitudes to aging in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936” is available free of charge for a limited time here.
The commentary on the paper, “Positive attitudes on aging: a life course view” is also available free of charge for a limited time here.
2) Attitudes to Ageing Questionnaire – AAQ (Laidlaw, K., Power, M. J. and Schmidt, S. (2007). The Attitudes to Ageing Questionnaire (AAQ): development and psychometric properties. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 22, 367–379
3) http://www.lothianbirthcohort.ed.ac.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7&Itemid=2 and Deary, I. J., Gow, A. J., Pattie, A., & Starr, J. M. (2011). Cohort Profile: The Lothian Birth Cohorts of 1921 and 1936. International Journal of Epidemiology. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyr197
4) (NEO-FFI: Costa, P. T. and McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO PI-R and Professional Manual (Revised NEO Personality Inventory and NEO Five-Factor Inventory). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources).
Image: ““Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 at a reunion in Edinburgh, 2007. Credit: Douglas Robertson/Age UK”
Photographers website: www.douglasinscotland.co.uk