References to “losing hair” and “wasting away” in The Beatles’ classic When I’m Sixty-four could be having a “detrimental” effect on the health of the elderly, researchers have said.
The song lyrics “when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine”, associate old age with being “unlovable”, according to the new study.
Researchers said that negative connotations of growing old in songs can affect the confidence and self esteem of older people, which in turn could lead to other health problems.
While some songs such as Bob Dylan’s Forever Young and Dusty Springfield’s Goin’ Back portray older people and ageing in a positive light, many songs represent the elderly in a negative way.
The authors wrote: “Old age identity was associated with embarrassing physical decline and unattractiveness and that old age was associated with being unlovable as evidenced by The Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-four.”
They added that songs like Kris Kristofferson’s Feeling Mortal identify older people as “self-pitying and lacking in self-esteem”.
Meanwhile, Leonard Cohen’s Because Of suggests old age is associated with pitifulness in romantic situations, according to the study authors from Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Hull.
The academics assessed song lyrics from 1930 to the present day.
Their study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, looked for English-language songs that relate to age or ageing.
Of the 76 songs that fitted this criteria 55, or 72%, were deemed to be “negative” and covered topics such as frailty, loneliness and death.
The authors said the decade with the highest proportion of negative songs was the 1980s, where around four fifths of the songs that covered the topic of ageing did so in an undesirable way.
“With significant increases in life expectancy and a huge rise in the number of people aged 65 or older during the coming decades, ageing is a matter of national and global importance,” said lead author Jacinta Kelly, senior lecturer in nursing at Anglia Ruskin University.
“However, most research focuses on age-related disease at the expense of examining the social and cultural influences on the ageing experience.
“The negative representations of age and ageing can be dispiriting, and can affect confidence and the esteem of older people. Negative emotions experienced by older people are connected to poor outcomes in mental and physical health, particularly cardiac health.
“As popular music is a powerful mass medium that has both positive and negative effects on people’s emotions, we thought it would be useful to investigate how age and ageing is portrayed. Unfortunately, from this study, we found mainly negative representations.
“While it may prove an impossible task, as well as an infringement on the freedom of expression, to censor negative portrayals of old age, it is important that awareness is raised and some efforts are made to reduce these negative stereotypes.” (PA)