The grumpy old man isn’t that grumpy at all
He’s introverted and keeps mostly to himself. He's angry, rude and cantankerous. He snarls at people and shouts at children. He’s the grumpy old man we all know. Or do we? Research from Aarhus BSS at Aarhus University says the stereotype of the grumpy old man is a myth and borderline ageism.
The grumpy old man has been portrayed many times on film, and we laugh at him, we distance ourselves from his behaviour, and perhaps empathise with him a little bit. Great actors like Walter Matthau, Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks have all given us their interpretation of the grumpy, rude and angry old man, and they’ve all been quite entertaining.
However, new research from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS shows that the grumpy old man is something of a myth. In fact, he’s doing quite well and hasn’t given up on life at all. It even looks as if he might be doing better than his female counterpart.
"The old man is actually doing amazingly well, and he can put up with quite a bit," says Professor MSO Lars Larsen from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University.
You have to be careful not to talk about the elderly as weak citizens. In general, they’re actually quite strong and can cope with a great deal."
Lars Larsen, professor MSO at Department of Psychology and Behavioural Science, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus Universitet.
For more than 20 years, Lars Larsen has been studying geropsychology. Freely translated from Greek, gero means old man, psyche means mind, and logos means the study of – i.e. the study of the old man's mind or to use more modern language: the psychology of ageing,
Together with PhD student Morten Christoffersen and former postdoc Anna Pacak-Vedel, Lars Larsen has recently contributed to the book The Old Man published by Aarhus University Press.
In the chapter titled On the old man’s well-being and what to do when he is not well, they present their latest research, in which they analysed data from questionnaire surveys of people who receive municipal elder care and their quality of life. They also present the results of a collaboration with the municipalities of Aarhus and Copenhagen on providing psychotherapy to elderly citizens with low well-being.
Since 2016, in connection with its satisfaction surveys, the Department of Health and Care in the Municipalty of of Aarhus has also measured the well-being of elderly home care recipients. For this purpose, the Municipality of Aarhus used the internationally recognised WHO-5 Well-being Index, which is a self-reported measure of current mental well-being.
Women score lower than men
Analyses of the measurements from 2016 and 2017 show that the recipients of municipal elder care generally experience well-being that is significantly below the average of the population as a whole (including the elderly section of the population). And the analyses also show that elderly women actually scored even lower than men.
"When you go from being able to manage everything yourself to becoming dependent on help from others, well-being declines as you lose autonomy and control over your own life. Losing the ability to control your own life obviously affects your well-being," explains Lars Larsen, although he warns against generalisation.
"You have to be careful not to talk about the elderly as weak citizens. In general, they’re actually quite strong and can cope with a great deal," says the psychology professor, who has been working with Health and Care in the Municipality of Aarhus since 2016 to provide free psychotherapy to the elderly under the auspices of the Center for Quality of Life.
Since 2016, 2,200 elderly residents in Aarhus have received help, and the results show that their quality of life improves by 20 percentage points on average.
“In the past there was a tendency to think that providing help to this group of citizens wasn’t worthwhile, but that’s not true. Elderly citizens usually experience poor well-being due to external factors such as serious illness or the loss of a spouse. Getting help to deal with things like this makes a lot of sense," says Lars Larsen.
"Conditions for elderly people in Denmark have vastly improved over the years through better housing, nutrition and education. But if they aren’t doing well and become vulnerable, they should have help, and the help helps,” concludes Lars Larsen.
Read also: Can hunger make you cheat
Facts about the Study
We strive to comply with Universities Denmark’s principles for good research communication. For this reason, we provide the following information as a supplement to this article:
|Type of study||Cross-sectional and intervention survey of well-being among elderly men.|
|External partners|| |
Department of Health and Care, City of Aarhus
|External funding|| |
Værdighedsmilliarden (funding pool for the elderly sector) and the Ministry of Health
|Conflict of interests||No|
|Read the scientific article here|| |
Larsen, L., Christoffersen, M., & Pacak-Vedel, A. (2023). On the old man's well-being and what to do when he is not well. I K. P. Munk, M. Smaerup, K. Maibom, & K. P. Frausing (ed.), The Old Man (p. 83-106). Aarhus University Press.https://pure.au.dk/portal/da/persons/lars-larsen(7bd13f67-d81b-40d2-a742-8115e7100ecb)/publications/on-the-old-mans-wellbeing-and-what-to-do-when-he-is-not-well(1864e9aa-2436-42c6-b0d2-7d2bffe9251c).html
Lars Larsen, professor MSO