Few studies have examined the impact of ageist attitude on the self-concept of older adults. This is interesting as this represents the group most affected by ageist attitudes. Kastenbaum and Durkee (1964a) discuss how elderly people view old age. They conclude that attitudes of the aged towards themselves as a population is improving. However, it still is hypothesized that as individuals age, their concept of themselves becomes less positive. In support of this contention they cite Kuhlen (1959) who reported that only 5 percent of older individuals surveyed select middle and later adulthood as the period of greatest happiness. It is important to remember that many of these earlier studies used a nonrepresentative sample of older adults.
One potential outcome of internalized ageist attitudes in the older adult is a syndrome described as the social breakdown syndrome (Kuypers & Bengston, 1973). The social breakdown syndrome is hypothesized to involve seven stages. First, the individual becomes susceptible to dependence on external labeling. This is proposed to occur in response to role loss or the lack of a reference group. For example, retirement or widowhood might make the individual susceptible. The second stage is dependence on external labeling. If this labeling is positive, the syndrome continues no further. However, the third stage is characterized by the societal view of the elderly as incompetent or obsolete. If the individual accepts this negative attitude, he/she falls into the fifth stage of assuming a dependent role. This is followed by the atrophy of skills and finally the labeling of the self as inadequate, incompetent, and "sick". Therefore, what the social breakdown syndrome describes is the self-fulfilling nature of negative attitudes concerning age and aging.