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Stereotypes, stereotype threat and ageing: implications for the understanding and treatment of people with Alzheimer's disease

  • JANE M. SCHOLL (a1) and STEVEN R. SABAT (a1)


Over the past 15 years, a growing body of research has shown that people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) are affected not only by brain neuropathology but also by their reactions to its effects, by the environments in which they live, and by how they are treated by others. Nevertheless, three relatively neglected social influences on people with AD remain to be examined: negative stereotyping, negative self-stereotyping and stereotype threat. Numerous studies reviewed in this paper indicate that: (1) negative self-stereotypes at conscious and unconscious levels can have adverse effects on the performance of healthy elderly people on tasks demanding explicit memory (recall in particular), and (2) the mere threat of being stereotyped negatively can have adverse effects on the performance of healthy elderly people on tasks including those involving memory. In this paper, we discuss the relevance of these phenomena for our understanding and treatment of people with AD who are exposed to negative stereotypes about old age and about AD before and after they are diagnosed. There is evidence to suggest that these influences may have significant effects on people with AD. The paper concludes with recommendations for best practice in the treatment of people with AD in the light of the most apparent effects of negative self-stereotyping and stereotype threat. These include advocacy for an approach that involves aspects of counselling.

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Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Steven R. Sabat, Department of Psychology, Georgetown University, Washington DC 20057, USA. E-mail:


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