Introduction: Attitudes to aging in older people themselves may relate to current physical or cognitive abilities, or may reflect factors from across the life course. This study investigated whether life course factors predicted attitudes to aging in healthy, community-dwelling people in the UK, taking account of relevant contemporary gerontological theories on the attitude and experience of ageing.
Methods: Participants in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 completed a cross-sectional postal survey including the self-report Attitudes to Aging Questionnaire (AAQ) around age 75 years (n = 792, 51.4% male). Demographic, social, physical, cognitive and personality predictors were assessed three to six years previously. This included recall of childhood education and socio-economic circumstances, and recorded cognitive ability data at age 11.
Results: Generally positive attitudes were reported in all three domains: low Psychosocial Loss, high Physical Change, and high Psychological Growth. Hierarchical multiple regression found that attitudes to Psychosocial Loss were predicted by high neuroticism, low extraversion, openness and agreeableness, high anxiety and depression, (explaining 20.7% of the variance), and more physical disability (8.1%). Predictors of a positive attitude to Physical Change were: high extraversion, openness and conscientiousness (7.3% of the variance), and female sex, higher social class and less physical disability (10.4%). Personality predictors of attitudes to Psychological Growth were similar: high extraversion, openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness (14.0% of the variance). In contrast, a less affluent environment, living alone, lower National Adult Reading Test (vocabulary) scores and slower walking speed predicted a more positive attitude in this domain (7.1%). Childhood cognitive ability or early life socio-economic environment did not predict attitudes to ageing.
Conclusion: Older people's attitudes to their own aging are generally positive, and are predicted mainly by enduring personality traits, as well as current social, physical and affective state.