Stereotypes Surrounding Older Adults and a Lack of Physical Activity By: Emily Legatski

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Aging is a very complex process and the consequences associated with it vary greatly depending in the individual. There are many variables that have an affect on a person’s life as they age, for example, chronic diseases, nutrition and healthcare. As a result, many different stereotypes exist surrounding aging and the physical and mental implications of it. There are many variables that have an affect on a person’s life as they age. For example, chronic diseases, nutrition and healthcare. One such stereotype is the decline of physical exercise and the perceived weakness of older adults. This stereotype is difficult to study as a result of many additional factors impacting one’s ability to exercise, which may explain the source of the stereotype. However, it can be seen that older adults tend to suffer from a lack of physical activity as a result of balance issues, mental processes and overall weakness.

One study surrounding this stereotype looked at how physical activity is currently measured in older adults and how accurate the testing methods are. The purpose of this study was to determine how well current studies were able to measure physical activity across a population and take into account the difficulties that older adults face when it comes to exercising (Kowalski, K., Rhodes, R., Naylor, P., Tuokko, H., & MacDonald, S, 2012). This study only used information from adults who were sixty-five or older and used literature that was collected through databases (Kowalski, K et al., 2012). The study found thirty-six studies that could be used as a result of the presence of a correlation or agreement that could be identified between two direct or indirect measures (Kowalski, K et al., 2012). Overall, there was no clear trend in the agreement between measures which helps conclude that current methods of measuring physical activity in older adults is unacceptable because of the changes and challenges that the body faces as a result of natural aging (Kowalski, K et al., 2012). It was observed that older adults often have complications walking such as gait disorders and slower speeds as well as compounding factors such as memory loss, confusion and dexterity issues that makes it difficult for them to obey specific instructions (Kowalski, K et al., 2012). Overall, this study showed that the current physical activity assessments may not be appropriate for older adults because they are not strong enough to meet the demands of them (Kowalski, K et al., 2012). This may be a contributing factor to why the stereotype has come to exist. The study brought up issues with how physical activity is typically measured in order to compare physical activity levels across multiple studies (Kowalski, K et al., 2012). The need for new measurement strategies arises from the fact that older adults bodies do not function as well, which prevents them from exercising as much so they respond differently to the tests that are administered. For example, memory problems may make it more difficult to understand complete a task and they have to use more energy to complete activities. As a result of the inaccurate testing much of what we know surrounding older adults’ bodies functioning is misleading and inaccurate. In order to understand older adult’s levels of physical activity to conclusively support or disprove the stereotype that they are weak and do not engage in physical activity new ways of completing the evaluations must be developed.

Another study that was conducted focused on the relationship between postural balance and the ability of physically independent older adults with different exercise capabilities to complete daily tasks (Hayashi, D., Gonçalves, C. G., Parreira, R. B., Fernandes, K. P., Teixeira, D. C., Silva, R. A., & Probst, V. S., 2012). One hundred fifty seven older adults aged sixty years or older who were deemed physically independent were assessed (Hayashi, D et al., 2012). Their balance and exercise capacity were assessed using physical tests while their ability to complete everyday tasks was assessed using a combinations of a questionnaire and a pedometer (Hayashi, D et al., 2012). The participants were then separated into groups of low performance, normal performance and high performance depending on how well they scored on the tasks (Hayashi, D et al., 2012). There was a definitive pattern that showed that the better the exercise capacity and postural balance, the better the individual was at being able to complete their daily activities (Hayashi, D et al., 2012). This study supported the idea that with age comes a decline in balance and ability to exercise (Hayashi, D et al., 2012). As a result, the level of physical activity completed on a daily basis by older adults drops drastically, supporting the stereotype that older adults do not engage in as much exercise as younger adults. This is a result of their balance declining as it has a direct effect on their ability to complete some of their daily activities that require more physical activity.

A third study was conducted to work to predict the physical of older adults using conscious and non-conscious processes (Arnautovska, U., Fleig, L., O’Callaghan, F., & Hamilton, K., 2017). A longitudinal quantitative study was conducted with older adults aged sixty-five or older to complete the study (Arnautovska, U et al., 2017). The longitudinal design was used in order to test both direct and indirect effects of participant intention, automatic process strength and volitional processes and their impact on participation in physical activities (Arnautovska, U et al., 2017). This study found that participant intention, automatic process strength and volitional processes could predict physical activity and that automatic process strength facilitates the intention-behavior connection (Arnautovska, U et al., 2017). It was also found that males used fewer planning tactics but participated in more physical activity when compared to females (Arnautovska, U et al., 2017). The study was able to conclude that there is a connection between conscious and non-conscious processes and older adult’s physical activity (Arnautovska, U et al., 2017). This conclusion allowed them to subsequently conclude that in order to promote higher levels of physical activity in older adults these factors must be integrated into the intervention process (Arnautovska, U et al., 2017).   This study supports the idea that the majority of older adults are not getting enough physical activity. It addresses this problem by finding a way to combat it more effectively when utilizing intervention strategies. As adults age it becomes harder for them to engage in physical activities due to an overall weakness, so it is important to find approaches that will be more effective at motivating more people.

A final study also examined the balance issues that are common in older adults. The purpose of this study was to examine how physical fitness and physical condition were linked to the risks of falling (Lobo, A., 2012). A quantitative empirical study was conducted using older adults aged sixty-five or older (Lobo, A., 2012). This study found that eighty-four percent of the older adults studied were at low risk of falling, while around twenty-one percent had a moderate risk and almost five percent had a high risk (Lobo, A., 2012). It also found that women were more flexible, but men were stronger (Lobo, A., 2012). The study concluded the importance of physical activity in preventing weakness, which may lead to more falls (Lobo, A., 2012). While there are many additional factors involved in the likelihood of falling, the data shows that physical weakness from a lack of activity is one of the leading causes. Therefore, this study does support the stereotype that older adults do not regularly exercise.

In order to gain a better understanding of the exact levels of physical activity in older adults, more research must be conducted. Much of the research that currently exists suggests that the parameters that are currently in place for judging activity levels may be biased against age, as well as significantly impacted by outside factors such as genetics, environment and pre-existing health concerns. However, there is still a distinct pattern that can be seen where older adults are not getting enough physical exercise. Thus, the stereotype that that older adults lack physical activity in their lives can be supported as being true.

References

Arnautovska, U., Fleig, L., O’Callaghan, F., & Hamilton, K. (2017). A longitudinal investigation of older adults’ physical activity: Testing an integrated dual-process model. Psychology & Health, 32(2), 166-185. doi:10.1080/08870446.2016.1250273

Hayashi, D., Gonçalves, C. G., Parreira, R. B., Fernandes, K. P., Teixeira, D. C., Silva, R. A., & Probst, V. S. (2012). Postural balance and physical activity in daily life (PADL) in physically independent older adults with different levels of aerobic exercise capacity. Archives Of Gerontology And Geriatrics, 55(2), 480-485. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2012.04.009

Kowalski, K., Rhodes, R., Naylor, P., Tuokko, H., & MacDonald, S. (2012). Direct and indirect measurement of physical activity in older adults: A systematic review of the literature. The International Journal Of Behavioral Nutrition And Physical Activity, 9doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-148

Lobo, A. (2012). Relationship between physical condition, functional fitness, and falls risk in elderly adults. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 60(9), 1788-1789. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2012.04137.x

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