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February 21, 1986

Dispelling stereotypes associated with aging

JAMA. 1986;255(7):866. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370070016002

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As people age, they become cranky and hypochondriacal, less able to cope with stress, and uninterested in sex. If these are your impressions, you are unaware of work at the Laboratory of Behavioral Sciences of the Gerontology Research Center.

Paul T. Costa, Jr, PhD, chief of the laboratory's section on stress and coping, and Robert R. McCrae, PhD, research psychologist in the section, have followed about 300 subjects from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging for up to 12 years. Based on self-reporting and spouse questionnaires, they find personality to be "remarkably stable over time." These scientists, who feel that there is no typical "older personality," warn that lasting behavioral changes in an older person should alert family to the need for medical evaluation.

Costa and McCrae have also studied coping mechanisms in the elderly. They find that age-related differences in coping are due to the different nature of stressors