Effect of Age Stereotypes on Balance Performance

04 Apr 2018

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Question 1: An important aspect of physical functioning is the ability to stay balanced. How may expectations generated by age stereotypes influence older adults’ balance performance? Critically review psychological theory and research relevant to this issue, and discuss broader implications for interventions that may support healthy physical functioning of older persons.

  • Loh Qiu Yan Melissa



Older adults face wide range of age stereotypes as they age into their golden years. Such life cycles made people question their cognitive ability and physical functions. The effect of age stereotypes led to one facing both positive and negative aspect of life. These constant stereotyping had negative impacts on health and physical function. But with the help of social interactions, it helped older folks have a choice in leading a more balanced life. The use of social networks helped maintain their physical and cognitive functioning, giving them the room to have independence as well as learning more about their bodily functions.

Importance and interventions in maintaining balance performance in physical functioning of older adults.

Aging is an inevitable process in living beings where the condition of the body deteriorates resulting in decline of functioning. This challenges the physical abilities and cognitive functioning of older people (Wulf, Chiviacowsky & Lewthwaite, 2012) in instances of performing daily activities such as being mobile enough to bath and dress on their own (Clark, Hayes, Jones, & Lievesley, 2009). In order to maintain the ability to be mobile and independent in bodily functions at an older age, this is usually accompanied with the decline in physical, mental and sensory abilities. These declines in functions can affect performance in areas that require cognition involving fluid intelligence for example memory and abilities to reason and explain, along with task that require executive control involving vocabulary and word knowledge. Moreover, with the decline in physical functioning, particularly muscle strength and joint flexibility mostly involves motor tasks and balance; such as walking and running results in more dependence on cognitive resources at an older age due to the decline in eyesight and auditory range (Schaefer, & Schumacher, 2010). These physical and cognitive challenges faced by older individuals can become issues; potentially leading to age stereotypes caused by expectations and assumptions in limited abilities of older adults (Wulf, Chiviacowsky & Lewthwaite, 2012).

By understanding how aging and age stereotypes take place plays an important role for individuals in realising the anxiety and uncertainty that can further affect cognitive capacity, assuming of own abilities for example intellectual and reasoning abilities (Schaefer, & Schumacher, 2010), and regulation of positive and negative feedback given (Wulf, Chiviacowsky & Lewthwaite, 2012). The cognitive aspect of a person can be affected positively and negatively in one’s mind set for example towards a challenging motor task which tests an older person’s ability (Wulf, Chiviacowsky & Lewthwaite, 2012). This further challenges the balance performance of an older person who might require more cognitive resources later in life (Schaefer, & Schumacher, 2010). Hence, the importance of understanding aging, age stereotypes, cognitive and physical functions in influencing balance performance can help develop a more positive aspect in maintaining healthy physical functioning.

To better perform the interventions required for physical functioning of older folks, it is necessary to understand the reason behind age stereotypes which can have a negative impact on older folks. One probable reason that can lead to a rise in age stereotypes is by labelling and categorising people into old age groups. As a result, it usually occurs where less favourable attitudes are placed on older adults, viewing them as less productive members of society (Phillips, 2014). This in turn makes individuals come to a conclusion that these deep rooted thoughts and beliefs, mind-set and perceptual behaviour actually support age stereotyping (Blaine, 2013). Furthermore reinforcing and heightening their levels of fear and dependency on others throughout their aging process (Clark, Hayes, Jones, & Lievesley, 2009). These thoughts and fears are further embedded in their mind, altering their mind set thus creates a self-conscious state (Wulf, Chiviacowsky & Lewthwaite, 2012), which results in self-stereotyping (Levy, 2003), and affecting balance performance which reduces the ability to perform (Wulf, Chiviacowsky & Lewthwaite, 2012).

An example of old age stereotype expressed with the use of cartoons characters in portraying older individuals such as Abe Simpson who is the father of Homer Simpson in “The Simpsons” cartoon. He was portrayed as a senile and dependent person who appears to be quite difficult to handle at times, also seen as being a burden to his son. This portrayed older adults in a negative stereotypical manner with limited abilities to be independent which is not the case for everyone (Blaine, 2013). However, switching to a different perspective of age stereotyping happening in a workplace environment in the context of Singapore, it proved that there were certain generational differences in the negative stereotypes towards older employees. For example, employees at a younger age felt they had more efficiency towards the aspect of multitasking and creativity compared to older employees whom felt that they have stronger work ethics but think that younger employees have stronger demand towards recognition (Blauth, McDaniel, Perrin, & Perrin, 2011). These generational differences were similar in the aspect of comparing the cognitive functioning which is related to balance performance of both groups of people. With better understanding of the cause and reasons for age stereotypes guides older individuals foster a better relationship with their cognitive and body functioning.

As much as ageism being a concern, with the constant stereotypical opinions and perception on older people, emotional reactions of these elderly folks are affected in both positive and negative ways (Blaine, 2013). Positive influences and implications can be through social means by interacting with family members, friends and various people from all walks of life. Not only does social interaction help regulate the emotional reactions of older folks; it also encourages individuals in integrating with society through social means (Charles & Carstensen, 2010). Social networks and interactions also have an effect on cognitive functioning where it is a motivational factor behind a better quality of life and the ability in maintaining independence despite increase in age; Furthermore, resulting one to developing more self- efficacy in leading a better functional health. This is due to the body reacting in a positive manner where social interaction has a direct relationship with neuroendocrine and cardiovascular reactivity. Thus, with positive and supportive interactive reactions in the body help to reduce the physiological reactivity that has been linked to endocrine and cardiovascular activity resulting in cognitive decline (Seeman, Lusignolo, Albert & Berkman, 2001).

In the event of cognitive functioning of an older adult decreasing, there are higher chances of cognitive disorders or impairments such as signs of vascular dementia or Alzheimer to appear (Price, Corwin, Friedman, Laditka, Colabianchi & Montgomery, 2011). Hence in order to maintain or increase cognitive functioning, having strong social networks and support in maintaining connectedness can improve one’s mental and physical health, resulting in prevention of cognitive decline. Voluntary activities are one of the social network and integrating activities that encourages bonding sessions with different individuals, demands social and mental skills (Charles & Carstensen, 2010) provides a sense of purpose and prevents isolation for those who face difficulties at any point in their life (Grimm, Spring & Dietz, 2007). The effect of social interaction has a potential and positive influence on cognitive functioning where both fluid intelligence and executive control involve extensive intrinsic cognitive components required during social interaction for example striking conversations with people during bonding sessions and activities. Social integrating activities such as volunteering can help one have a better sense of control over life and physical health by providing support to other older adults and gaining a sense of accomplishment. With the use of these cognitive components can further promote older individuals having better cognitive engagement and functioning (Seeman, Lusignolo, Albert & Berkman, 2001) which are linked to balance performance.

Maintaining of balance may seem as a simple and indispensable part in many people, however it is a task that is physical and demands independence in the aspect of an elderly person (Onambele, 2006). Through the study done by Wulf, Chiviacowsky, & Lewthwaite (2012) showed that balance is influenced by social cognitive, affect and assuming of own abilities etc. Thus older adult’s balance performance can be further strengthened by increasing their perceived abilities in performing and completing tasks. In addition, based on a study done by Levy & Leifheit-Limson (2009) similar to Wulf, Chiviacowsky, & Lewthwaite (2012) where instilling of positive age stereotypes on physical or balance performance help mould a certain level of expectation towards the stereotype led to one conforming to it. As a result this causes one to self- stereotype (Levy, 2003), which affect the performance of the individuals in performing better due to the positive influence. Likewise if it was a negative stereotype, the outcomes are negative. Further implications on how stereotypes can affect balance and physical functioning are neatness of handwriting and speed of walking. This was seen in a study done by Levy (2003) where older adults exposed to negative stereotypes are likely to appear older and frail. The body conditions as observed through handwritings produced seemed to have a little towards illegible due to shaking and unstable movements of the hands which explains that balance performance is affected. In another experiment of exposure to positive stereotyping, the speed of an older adult showed connection between the former and the latter. By exposing them to positive views, makes them self- stereotype themselves towards a more positive and satisfying aspect. The idea of measuring the speed of walking is by how much time is needed for foot to be lifted off the ground and this is measured as swing time which indicated balance. Therefore, results show that older individuals who were exposed to positive stereotypes had greater swing time in particular to having better balance in their physical movements and their cognitive functioning.

In conclusion, age stereotypes, cognitive abilities and physical functions share significantly close relationships in maintaining balance performance for older adults. Positive and negative age stereotypes can give significant effects to an older adult which can be misled and neglected at times. This can cause further effects in time and worst if the stereotypes are negative. The use and help of social interaction and network can boost a person’s physiological reactivity making one have a sense of accomplishment which promotes social integration. Most importantly it leads older individuals to keep their mind and body in working conditions which allow them practice and maintain independence.


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Blauth, C., McDaniel, J., Perrin, C., & Perrin, P. (2011). Age-Based Stereotypes: Silent Killer of Collaboration and Productivity. AchieveGlobal,1(2), 1-15.

Charles, S., & Carstensen, L., (2010). Social and emotional aging. Annual Reviews of Psychology, 61, 383-409.

Clark, A., Hayes, R., Jones, K. & Lievesley, N., (2009). Ageism and age discrimination in social care in the United Kingdom. Centre for Policy on Aging.

Grimm, R., Spring, K., & Dietz, N. (2007). Volunteering, Life Satisfaction, and Mental Health. In The health benefits of volunteering: A review of recent research.Corporation for National & Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development.

Levy, B. (2003). Mind Matters: Cognitive and Physical Effects of Aging Self-Stereotypes. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences,58(4), P203-P211.

Levy, B., & Leifheit-Limson, E. (2009). The stereotype-matching effect: Greater influence on functioning when age stereotypes correspond to outcomes. Psychology and Aging,24(1), 230-233.

Onambele, G. (2006). Calf muscle-tendon properties and postural balance in old age. Journal of Applied Physiology,100(6), 2048-2056.

Phillips, L. (2014). Efforts to Promote Physical Activity Must Battle Ageist Stereotypes. Research in Gerontological Nursing,7(1), 4-5.

Price, A., Corwin, S., Friedman, D., Laditka, S., Colabianchi, N., & Montgomery, K. (2011). Older Adults' Perceptions of Physical Activity and Cognitive Health: Implications for Health Communication. Health Education & Behavior, 38 (1), 15-24.

Schaefer, S., & Schumacher, V. (2010). The Interplay between Cognitive and Motor Functioning in Healthy Older Adults: Findings from Dual-Task Studies and Suggestions for Intervention. Gerontology,57, 239-246.

Seeman, T., Lusignolo, T., Albert, M., & Berkman, L. (2001). Social relationships, social support, and patterns of cognitive aging in healthy, high-functioning older adults: MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging. Health Psychology,20 (4), 243-255.

Wulf, G., Chiviacowsky, S., & Lewthwaite, R. (2012). Altering mindset can enhance motor learning in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 27, 14-21. DOI: 10.1037/a0025718

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