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Luisa Ramírez      

Sheri Levy      

How Aging Stereotypes, Aging Anxiety, and Social Support Impact the Mental and Physical Health of Middle Age and Older Colombians During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Luisa Ramírez, Professor of Psychology, Universidad del Rosario
Sheri Levy, Professor of Psychology, Stony Brook University, SUNY

While population aging is an unquestionable global trend, there are cultural variations regarding the age at which someone is considered to be an “older person” or the implications of aging (Gietel-Basten, et al., 2020). When compared to high income countries, Latin American and Caribbean countries have weaker institutional support systems and cultural trajectories whereby elder support relies heavily on family and kin (Palloni & Pinto, 2014). Despite these cultural differences, a shared social concern is ageism (Levy & Macdonald, 2016). Data from the WHO (2016) suggest that 1 in every 10 older adults face elder abuse every month. Evidence from Latin America suggests that older adults often experience mistreatment, neglect, abuse, and discrimination in healthcare and in everyday interactions (Moreno, 2011). Considering the strong reliance on informal care for older people in Latin America, this evidence may pose a stronger reason for concern.

Recent findings in Colombia (Ramírez & Palacios-Espinosa, 2016; Ramírez et al., 2018) suggest that positive stereotypes about aging (e.g., loving, experienced, wise) and social support relate to more positive health and wellbeing expectations. In turn, negative stereotypes (e.g., sick, sad, tired, dying) increase aging anxiety and relate to more negative expectations for social and health wellbeing (Ramírez & Palacios-Espinosa, 2016; Ramírez et al., 2018). Consistently, age stereotypes and social support appear to play an important role in predicting people’s wellbeing.

Worldwide, policy decisions and containment measures informed by recent findings in the context of the Pandemic have had differential impact on people’s lives (Daoust, 2020). In addition to higher risks of more disease-related complications and increased risks of death (CCDCP, 2020), older people are affected by restricted access to proper medical care and marginalization (Lekamwasam, & Lekamwasam, 2020).

Moreover, despite their good intentions prevention campaigns and the media may have increased negative stereotyping by endorsing public perception that older people are vulnerable, sick, dependent, dying, etc. Research on Self-Embodiment Theory (Levy et al., 2002; Levy, 2009) indicates that people may internalize pervasive stereotypes such that their physical and mental health worsens, even resulting in shorter lifespan, extending the impact of negative age-stereotypes to middle age people.

In some cases, like Colombia, measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus and the overload of the health system, also included limiting older people access to their social network, to move freely, and to physically exercise. These measures weighed so disproportionately on older population that they mobilized in what is known as the “Silver-hair Rebellion” to defend their autonomy. Unfortunately, they experienced severe restrictions for several months before the Constitutional Court ruled to restore their rights.

Truthfully, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be increasing ageism worldwide (Ayalon et al., 2020; Monahan et al., 2020), but there is only anecdotal evidence of increased intergenerational tensions and ageism in Colombia. Hence, this project’s goal is to assess the effects of policy and containment measures taken in Colombia on the physical and mental health of older populations.


Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. (February 11, 2020). Elderly most at risk from the coronavirus. COVID-19 fatality rate by age.

Daoust JF (2020) Elderly people and responses to COVID-19 in 27 Countries. PLOS ONE 15(7): e0235590.

Espino, A. & Arenas, A. I. (October 2020) La crisis por la covid-19 en Colombia: Oportunidad o  retroceso para la autonomía económica de las mujeres.

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Lekamwasam, R., & Lekamwasam, S. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Health and Wellbeing of Older People: A Comprehensive Review. Annals of geriatric medicine and research, 24(3), 166–172.

Levy, B. R. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6), 332–336.

Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Lon- gevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 261–270. https://doi. org/10.1037/0022-3514.83.2.261.

Palloni, A., & Pinto, G. (2014). Family support networks and population ageing in Latin America and the Caribbean. International journal of sociology of the family, 40(2), 199–203.

Ramírez, L. F., & Palacios-Espinosa, X. (2016). Stereotypes about old age, social support, aging anxiety and evaluations of one’s own health. Journal of Social Issues, 72, 44–65. https://doi. org/10.1111/josi.12155.

Ramírez, L., Palacios-Espinosa, X., Dyar, C., Lytle, A., & Levy, S.R. (2018). The Relationships among Aging Stereotypes, Aging Anxiety, Social Support, Religiosity, and Expected

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