Attitude on Aging Affects Health of Seniors, Study Says

New research finds that seniors who view aging positively are much more likely to recover from disabilities that limit their ability to perform activities of daily living than older adults who buy into negative age stereotypes.

Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health followed 598 individuals age 70 and older over a period of 11 years. In an effort to discern their perception of aging, participants were asked monthly which five words or phrases come to mind when they think of older adults.  Although none of the participants had a disability at the start of the study, many experienced a disability that hindered their ability to perform activities of daily living at some point during the research.

Of those who experienced a disability, participants who had a positive view of aging were more likely to recover than those who had negative perceptions of aging. This was most pronounced in individuals who experienced a severe disability, which was defined as an inability to effectively perform three or more activities of daily living such as walking, bathing, dressing, and transferring. Those who fostered positive stereotypes of older adults were 44 percent more likely to recover from a severe disability than those who held negative stereotypes of older adults. Those with positive perceptions of older adults also experienced a significantly slower rate of decline.

“This result suggests that how the we view our aging process could have an effect on how we experience it,” said lead researcher Becca R. Levy. “In previous studies, we have found that older individuals with positive age stereotypes tend to show lower cardiovascular response to stress and they tend to engage in healthier activities, which may help to explain our current findings.”