European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 29–37 | Cite as

The impact of aging stereotypes on dementia worry

  • Joie Molden
  • Molly Maxfield
Original Investigation


Dementia worry, an anxiety-related response to the possibility of developing dementia, represents an important yet underexplored health concern for an aging population. Such a construct is likely impacted by stereotypes concerning aging, including biased associations of aging with inevitable cognitive decline. The present article explores the impact of mixed positive and negative aging stereotype messages on levels of dementia worry. The Fear of Alzheimer’s Disease Scale (FADS) was used to measure impact of priming with different proportions of positive and negative aging stereotype words. The priming intervention was modeled after Levy (J Pers Soc Psychol 71:1092–1107, 1996, doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.71.6.1092). Eighty older adult participants (M age = 71.65, SD = 6.57) were exposed to mostly positive aging stereotype words, half positive/half negative words, mostly negative words, all negative words, or non-stereotype words. Mean FADS item response was significantly impacted by priming such that those in the all negative condition had highest levels of dementia worry, F(4, 75) = 2.48, p = .05, \(\eta_{p}^{2} = 0.12\). This effect was strengthened when relevance of aging stereotypes was controlled for, p < .01. Results suggested that brief exposure to negative aging stereotype content increased levels of dementia worry, particularly when stereotypes were self-relevant. These findings indicate addressing aging stereotypes may be one way of impacting dementia worry.


Dementia worry Stereotypes Older adults Ageism 


  1. Aldwin C, Gilmer D (2013) Health, illness, and optimal aging. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Baumeister RF, Bratslavsky E, Finkenauer C, Vohs KD (2001) Bad is stronger than good. Rev Gen Psychol 5:323–370. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.5.4.323 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cuddy AJC, Norton MI, Fiske ST (2005) This old stereotype: the pervasiveness and persistence of the elderly stereotype. J Soc Issues 61:267–285. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2005.00405.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cutler SJ (2015) Worries about getting Alzheimer’s: Who’s concerned? Am J Alzheimers Dis 30:591–598. doi: 10.1177/1533317514568889 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cutler SJ, Brăgaru C (2015) Long-term and short-term predictors of worries about getting Alzheimer’s disease. Eur J Ageing 12:341–351. doi: 10.1007/s10433-015-0350-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cutler SJ, Hodgson LG (1996) Anticipatory dementia: a link between memory appraisals and concerns about developing Alzheimer’s disease. The Gerontologist 36:657–664. doi: 10.1093/geront/36.5.657 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cutler SJ, Hodgson LG (2001) Correlates of personal concerns about developing Alzheimer’s disease among middle-aged persons. Am J Alzheimer’s Dis 16:335–343. doi: 10.1177/153331750101600604 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davies M (2008) The corpus of contemporary American English: 450 million words, 1990-present.
  9. French SL, Floyd M, Wilkins S, Osato S (2012) The Fear of Alzheimer’s Disease Scale: a new measure designed to assess anticipatory dementia in older adults. Int J Geriatr Psychiatr 27:521–528. doi: 10.1002/gps.2747 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hay JL, Buckley TR, Ostroff JS (2005) The role of cancer worry in cancer screening: a theoretical and empirical review of the literature. Psycho-Oncology 14:517–534. doi: 10.1002/pon.864 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hess TM, Hinson JT, Statham JA (2004) Explicit and implicit stereotype activation effects on memory: Do age and awareness moderate the impact of priming? Psychol Aging 19:495–505. doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.19.3.495 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hodgson LG, Cutler SJ (1997) Anticipatory dementia and well-being. Am J Alzheimer’s Dis Other Dement 12:62–66. doi: 10.1177/153331759701200203 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kessler E, Bowen CE, Baer M, Froelich L, Wahl H (2012) Dementia worry: A psychological examination of an unexplored phenomenon. Eur J Ageing 9:275–284. doi: 10.1007/s10433-012-0242-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kessler E, Tempel J, Wahl H (2014) Concerns about one’s aging: the role of work context and psychological distress. GeroPsych J Gerontopsychol Geriatr Psychiatry 27:81–86. doi: 10.1024/1662-9647/a000105 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kornadt AE, Rothermund K (2012) Internalization of age stereotypes into the self-concept via future self-views: a general model and domain-specific differences. Psychol Aging 27:164–172. doi: 10.1037/a0025110 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Levy BR (1996) Improving memory in old age through implicit self-stereotyping. J Pers Soc Psychol 71:1092–1107. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.71.6.1092 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Levy BR (2003) Mind matters: cognitive and physical effects of aging self-stereotypes. J Gerontol Ser B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 58:203–211. doi: 10.1093/geronb/58.4.p203 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Levy BR (2009) Stereotype embodiment: a psychosocial approach to aging. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 18:332–336. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01662.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Levy BR, Leifheit-Limson E (2009) The stereotype-matching effect: greater influence on functioning when age stereotypes correspond to outcomes. Psychol Aging 24:230–233. doi: 10.1037/a0014563 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Levy BR, Zonderman AB, Slade MD, Ferrucci L (2012) Memory shaped by age stereotypes over time. J Gerontol B-Psychol 67:432–436. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr120 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Meisner BA (2012) A meta-analysis of positive and negative age stereotype priming effects on behavior among older adults. J Gerontol Ser B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 67B:13–17. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbr062 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. MetLife Foundation (2011) What America thinks. Accessed 25 June 2015
  23. North MS, Fiske ST (2012) An inconvenienced youth? Ageism and its potential intergenerational roots. Psychol Bull 138:982–997. doi: 10.1037/a0027843 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Roberts J (2000) Anticipating response to predictive genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease: a survey of first-degree relatives. Gerontologist 40:43–52. doi: 10.1093/geront/40.1.43 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sinoff G, Werner P (2003) Anxiety disorder and accompanying subjective memory loss in the elderly as a predictor of future cognitive decline. Int J Geriatr Psychiatr 18:951–959. doi: 10.1002/gps.1004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Stein R, Blanchard-Fields F, Hertzog C (2002) The effects of age-stereotype priming on the memory performance of older adults. Exp Aging Res 28:169–181. doi: 10.1080/03610730252800184 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Suhr JA, Kinkela JH (2007) Perceived threat of Alzheimer disease (AD): the role of personal experience with AD. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord 21:225–231. doi: 10.1097/WAD.0b013e31813e6683 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Warriner AB, Kuperman V, Brysbaert M (2013) Norms of valence, arousal, and dominance for 13,915 English lemmas. Behav Res Methods 45:1191–1207. doi: 10.3758/s13428-012-0314-x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Watson D, Clark LA (1999) The PANAS-X: manual for the positive and negative affect schedule—expanded form. Accessed 25 June 2015
  30. Wechsler D (2009) Wechsler Memory Scale—fourth edition technical and interpretive manual. Pearson, San Antonio TXGoogle Scholar
  31. Werner P (2002) Assessing correlates of concern about developing Alzheimer’s dementia among adults with no family history of the disease. Am J Alzheimer’s Dis Other Dement 17:331–337. doi: 10.1177/153331750201700609 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Whitbourne SK, Sneed JR (2004) The paradox of well-being, identity processes, and stereotype threat: ageism and its potential relationships to the self in later life. In: Nelson T (ed) Ageism: stereotyping and prejudice against older persons. MIT, Cambridge, pp 247–273Google Scholar
  33. Yochim BP, Mueller AE, Segal DL (2013) Late life anxiety is associated with decreased memory and executive functioning in community dwelling older adults. J Anxiety Disord 27:567–575. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2012.10.010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Zahodne LB, Nowinski CJ, Gershon RC, Manly JJ (2014) Which psychosocial factors best predict cognitive performance in older adults? J Int Neuropsychol Soc 20:487–495. doi: 10.1017/S1355617714000186 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Colorado Colorado SpringsColorado SpringsUSA

Personalised recommendations