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Negative stereotypes about old age in college nursing students


How to cite this article:
Duran-Badillo T, Miranda-Posadas C, Cruz-Barrera LG, Martínez-Aguilar ML, Gutiérrez-Sánchez G, Aguilar-Hernández RM. [Negative stereotypes about old age in college nursing students]. Rev Enferm Inst Mex Seguro Soc. 2016;24(3):205-9.

Negative stereotypes about old age in college nursing students

Tirso Duran-Badillo,1 Claudia Miranda-Posadas,1 Lucía Guadalupe Cruz-Barrera,1 Ma. de la Luz Martínez-Aguilar,1 Gustavo Gutiérrez-Sánchez,1 Rosa Ma. Aguilar-Hernández1

1Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas, Unidad Académica Multidisciplinaria Matamoros (UAT-UAMM), Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México

Autorización del Comité de Ética UAMM- UAT, Número de registro 016

Correspondence: Tirso Duran-Badillo

Email: tirdb27@hotmail.com

Received: May 27th 2015

Judged: August 26th 2015

Accepted: January 20th 2016


Introduction: Old aging is the stage of life that most myths and stereotypes are associate with. These ideas are often erroneous and negative aspects associated with unhealthy fragile, unproductive, and intransigent or dependent people.

Objective: To identify and describe the stereotypes that students in the discipline of nursing have towards the elderly.

Methodology: Descriptive study, with a sample of 95 students in the last period of Nursing Bachelor, stereotypes were measured with the CENVE questionnaire with Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of 0.76 for this population.

Results: In the analysis, the most frequent negative stereotypes are in the dimension of Health (65.3%). The analysis of the global indicates that 50.5% of students had negative stereotypes.

Discussion: The percentage found of students with negative stereotypes is greater than the reported in other studies.

Conclusions: Half of nursing students have negative stereotypes about old age.

Keywords: Stereotyping; Aged; Aging


Old age is the stage of life with the most associated myths and stereotypes. A stereotype is a structured image, accepted by most people. It is a common idea, thought or prejudice. In the case of old age, these ideas are often erroneous and negative associations with unhealthy, fragile, unproductive, or dependent people.1,2 They are social, historical and cultural constructs that influence the behavior of individuals, especially young people, who have negative ideas about old age, and try to escape it.3

We learn this way of thinking socially and do not usually judge or question it. Stereotypes affect the image people have of the elderly and therefore what they expect for their own old age. It is possible, therefore, that this rejection can be directed towards aging and the passage of time in some people.

In young university nursing students, these stereotypes toward the elderly are important, because as part of their training they are or will be in contact with that population. It is increasingly common to find elderly patients in hospitals or in community care, where family education is aimed at providing dignified treatment for the elderly. Therefore, attitudes, intentional behavior, or perceptions of older persons have an important role in the direction that students and future professionals of this discipline will take in working with older people.4

Stereotypes toward the elderly have changed. In the past, they were considered experts. Now they are marginalized, isolated as they are considered inexperienced and outdated. This is because of prejudices such as "The old cannot learn;" "They no longer need to know anything;" "Why study at this stage of life?" It's a big problem, because they are limited and prevented from becoming up to date.3

Scientific evidence shows that stereotypes of young people about older adults are multidimensional and related to socio-demographic variables, such as age, sex, and marital status. These studies have been conducted with students from health- and education-related disciplines5-9 in different contexts such as the U.S., Asia, and Latin America. However, studies with nursing students have not been identified.

Literature indicates that people who have a close relationship with the elderly, whether in or outside of the family, tend to show more positive attitudes towards them.10 Knowing about the stereotypes that future health care professionals have is important to develop measures to reinforce positive stereotypes and redirect the negative ones.

Stereotypes and prejudices influence and guide behavior, therefore, it is essential to create and expand the range of studies and/or support tools that serve to transform or strengthen the image people have towards people of advanced age.11 Since, as Melero12 affirms, quality of care can decrease dramatically if there is no clear provision for members of other age groups to provide them properly; therefore, this study was conducted in order to identify and describe stereotypes that students of nursing have towards the elderly, to develop awareness strategies in students.


The study was descriptive and transversal,13 conducted with health sciences students in the Unidad  Académica  Multidisciplinaria  Matamoros  of the  Universidad  Autónoma  de  Tamaulipas. The sampling was non-probabilistic for convenience. The sample was composed of 95 students of the last period of nursing school.

A group of personal data designed to identify socio-demographic data was used. The negative stereotype of aging was measured through the questionnaire instrument Negative Stereotypes towards Aging (NSA) consisting of 15 questions with Likert scale answer choices of 1 to 4 (categories: 1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Somewhat disagree, 3 = Somewhat agree and 4 = Strongly agree).14

The questionnaire assesses three dimensions: health, social motivation, and character/personality. For each of the dimensions, the minimum score was 5 and maximum 20, considering a negative stereotype as scoring between 12.5 and 20. The health dimension includes questions 1, 4, 7, 10 and 13; the social motivation dimension questions 2, 5, 8, 11 and 14; and the character/personality dimension is reflected in questions 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15. The overall assessment of the stereotype with the minimum score was 15 and maximum of 60. A negative stereotype is considered present when the score is between 37.5 and 60. The authors of the instrument reported a Cronbach's alpha of 0.67 for the dimension of health, 0.64 for the dimension of social motivation, and 0.66 for character/personality.14 Cronbach's alpha for the overall scale in this study corresponded to 0.76.

The study was authorized by the ethics committee of the Unidad  Académica  Multidisciplinaria  Matamoros  of the  Universidad  Autónoma  de  Tamaulipas, with registration number 016. Further permission was requested from the appropriate authorities of the Unidad  Académica  Multidisciplinaria  Matamoros -UAT for fieldwork. Data collection was performed by undergraduate nursing interns with prior training with the principal investigator. Before the study, groups and times were selected so as not to interfere with the study subjects' classes. Interviews were conducted in the classroom, where students were first asked to sign the informed consent forms. Then they were given the socio-demographic data survey and self-applied NSA questionnaire. Finally, each questionnaire was reviewed to make sure they were all filled out properly.

Data were captured and analyzed in the statistical program SPSS-18 for Windows. The analysis used descriptive statistics to respond to the objective. The study adhered to the provisions of the Ley  General  de  Salud for Health Research,15 so the privacy of each study subject was respected and informed consent was given.


Students who participated in the study had an average age of 22.41 (SD = 1.97). There was a majority of females (75.8%), 33.7% had a spouse, 71.6% lived with an older adult. Kinship is found in Table I.

Table I. Relationship of student to the oldest cohabitating adult(n= 68)
f %
Grandparent 47 49.5
Parent 4 4.2
Aunt or uncle 3 3.2
Others 14 14.7
Source:  Personal data sheet

The analysis of each dimension showed higher frequency of negative stereotypes in the dimension of health (65.3%), followed by the character/personality (49.5%) dimension, and finally the social motivation dimension (36.8%). The overall analysis indicated that 50.5% of students surveyed had negative stereotypes about old age.

Table II shows that the highest percentage of those with negative stereotypes about the elderly corresponds to the age group 20 to 25 years (51.7%), female (52.2%), no spouse (52.4%), and their older, cohabitating adult was a parent (75.0%) or uncle or aunt (66.7%).

Table II. Distribution of overall survey values with sociodemographic variables (n = 68)
Normal Negative Stereotypes
Age f % f %
20-25 years 43 48.3 46 51.7
26-30 years 3 75.0 1 25.0
Over 30 years 1 50.0 1 50.0
Female 36 50.0 36 50.0
Male 11 47.8 12 52.2
Marital status
Married 17 53.1 15 46.9
No spouse 30 47.6 33 52.4
Lives with older adults
Yes 35 51.5 33 48.5
No 12 44.5 15 55.5
Parent 1 25.0 3 75.0
Grandparent 25 53.2 22 46.8
Aunt or uncle 1 33.3 2 66.7
Others 8 57.1 6 42.9
Source: NSA, Personal data sheet


We recognize some limitations in this study that may interfere with the generalization of the results presented. The limitation considered most important was that we chose to use a non-probabilistic sampling intended to include all students present and in agreement the day of the interview. This is because the gerontology-geriatric nursing class is taught in the seventh study period of the nursing program at Unidad Académica Multidisciplinaria Matamoros-UAT. It is intended to assess stereotypes after receiving formal education in the area.

According to Mehrotra, Townsend and Berkman,16 the elderly population is a challenge for institutions of higher education, especially for health sciences programs, such as nursing, which is responsible for caregiving both within the family and in the hospital. Stereotypes are known to be part of the culture, however it is worrying when negative stereotypes are held by students in health disciplines because, according to Cerquera et al.,11 the behavior of individuals is associated with stereotypes and prejudices.

In the literature review, we have found only studies that address stereotypes of health professionals from diverse areas,17 women,11 and university students from different disciplines.9 The average full NSA questionnaire in this study was higher than results reported by Aristizabal et al.18 and Larraz and Martin-Peña19 in studies with students from different disciplines. However, it approaches those found by Campos and Salgado20 in a study in Costa Rica with psychology students.

The analysis of each dimension showed higher frequency of negative stereotypes in the dimension of health (65.3%), followed by the character/personality (49.5%) dimension, and finally the social motivation dimension (36.8%). The global analysis of the global indicated that 50.5% of students surveyed had negative stereotypes about old age.

Table II shows that the highest percentage of those with negative stereotypes about the elderly corresponds to the age group 20 to 25 years (51.7%), female (52.2%), no spouse (52.4%), and their older, cohabitating adult was a parent (75.0%) or uncle or aunt (66.7%).

Comparison analysis showed the NSA dimension of data from this study differ in the dimensions of health and character/personality. In this study, the averages of these dimensions are greater than those reported by Lasagni et al.9 and Larraz and Martin Peña.19 However, the same authors report findings in social motivation similar to this study’s findings.

The percentages found in this study regarding sex, age and marital status of the students surveyed were not significant. Aristizabal Vallejo et al.18 reported higher percentage of negative stereotypes in females in their study. According to Lasagni et al.,9 the interaction of young people with older adults improves stereotypes towards old age, and the data found by this author affirm that. This study found that students who were not living with an elderly person had negative stereotypes.

The percentage of students found with negative stereotypes is alarming, since they are the next caregivers and health educators. These results suggest reflection. What is the position taken towards old age? How should the elderly be cared for? Will stereotypes that these students have become prejudices that influence the quality of elderly care? If so, gerontological nursing classes must be adopted or continued.


The stated objective was to learn about the stereotypes that nursing students have towards the elderly. The results of this study allowed us to learn that half of the students of the undergraduate nursing program have negative stereotypes about older adults. The variables of age, sex, and marital status were not discrepant in the percentages of negative stereotypes. However, students who live with an adult who is their parent or aunt or uncle, and who do not live with any elderly people, had higher percentages of negative stereotypes.

There is a broad area of opportunity for intervention in improving the quality of nursing care. In this sense, the results of this study are an important approach for creating preventive measures. Professional training begins in the classroom, so it is necessary to emphasize the identification of students' negative stereotypes about older people. Also, future research is suggested to make forays into the evaluation of stereotypes toward aging teachers in this same field.

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