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Study: Older Role Models Inspire Healthy Aging


The secret to successful aging may be to have inspiring older adults in your life, a new study finds.

The researchers asked 151 individuals living in New York City if they had a role model of successful aging. The study found that there was no shortage of role models.

Eight-five per cent of participants, aged 18 to 99, had at least one role model. Most were family members, including parents and grandparents.

The new research suggests that having parents and grandparents as aging role models deflects harmful stereotypes and leads to greater optimism about one's own aging.

The study entitled Who Is Your Aging Role Model? appeared online in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences (Vol. 72, No. 2, 2017).

Role models

In face-to-face interviews, researchers asked each participant, "When you think about successful aging, do you have a certain person in mind?"

The study showed that people of all ages have successful aging role models. In fact, 129 of 151 participants mentioned at least one role model.

Not surprisingly, participants preferred role models they knew personally and of their own gender.

For example, one quarter of the participants chose parents and grandparents, followed by other relatives and non-family acquaintances.

For young people, grandparents topped the list of role models. Other relatives mentioned included aunts or siblings.

About 15 per cent of participants chose friends and mentors as role models. A smaller number chose movie stars, such as Clint Eastwood and Susan Sarandon. A few mentioned politicians, such as Barak Obama and musicians such as Tina Turner and Benny Goodman.


Researchers also asked study participants to give reasons for their choice of role model.

The reasons varied, with good health topping the list, followed by active lifestyle and rich social networks.

Other reasons included:

  • positive attitude
  • sense of humour
  • independence, and
  • good coping skills.

Seventeen per cent of participants said their role model embraced age and was not afraid of death.

Impact on aging

Scientists have discovered how we feel about getting old matters. Specifically, stereotypes about aging can have important effects on older adults' physical and mental well-being.

For example, a University of Toronto study published in Psychology and Aging (Dec. 2015) showed negative feelings about aging can affect hearing and memory in older people. The lead author of the study Alison Chasteen told the Toronto Star, "The worse your view of aging, the worse you tend to feel about your own abilities and the worse you perform."

In this current study, researchers say encouraging individuals to choose successful aging role models may be an important step in developing a blueprint for one's own aging. It also may be a way to offset harmful stereotypes.