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Views on aging: older adults’ self-perceptions of age and of health

Abstract

Perceptions of age and perceptions of health have each been found to predict future health and well-being, yet surprisingly, studies typically focused on one or the other. Studies on perceived age suggested that its effects on longevity may be mediated by perceived health. Within each of these lines of research, the constructs have not been consistently operationalized, making it difficult to generalize across studies. We aimed to investigate the associations of different measures of perceptions of age and of health with one another and with longevity. Data collected at baseline from the 851 participants of the Rutgers Aging and Health longitudinal study (mean age 73) included perceptions of age and health, each assessed with four different single-item measures, sociodemographic, and health measures. Mortality was followed-up for 10 years. All four health perceptions and two of the age perceptions (Age-group identity and nearness-to-death) were associated with survival time. Age and health perceptions had similar independent effects in models that included measures of both types, controlling for demographics and chronic conditions, though not after controlling for age. In contrast with our hypothesis, health perceptions did not mediate the association between age perceptions and mortality. Findings regarding health perceptions were generally consistent across measures, whereas age perception measures differed in their associations with various outcomes, indicating that they assess different subjective age constructs. The findings correspond with proposed explanations for the predictive effect of age and health perceptions and support the significant though weaker independent effects of age perceptions compared with health perceptions.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Grant AG03501 from the National Institute on Aging to Howard Leventhal and Elaine Leventhal. We thank Howard Leventhal for his thoughtful comments.

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Correspondence to Yael Benyamini.

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Benyamini, Y., Burns, E. Views on aging: older adults’ self-perceptions of age and of health. Eur J Ageing 17, 477–487 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-019-00528-8

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Keywords

  • Perceived age
  • Subjective age
  • Self-rated health
  • Self-assessed health
  • Mortality
  • Older adults