Attitude to Aging Impacts Everything About Aging

New research finds that your attitude about aging impacts your mind and body.

Posted Dec 13, 2016

That old adage, “You’re only as old as you feel” is correct, according to a new study. Regardless of your current age, it's worth paying attention to, because the research finds that your attitude about aging has a noticeable impact on your overall health.

I think that's consistent with what we see clinically - that how people envision their "evolution" through the years affects their emotional wellbeing, their cognitive capacities, and their susceptibility to physical illness.

The new research is a product of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin. It found that negative attitudes about aging affect both physical and cognitive health in your later years. Most evident was that participants in the study who held positive attitudes towards aging had improved cognitive ability as they aged.

According to the lead researcher Deirdre Robertson, “The way we think about, talk about and write about aging may have direct effects on health. Everyone will grow older and if negative attitudes towards aging are carried throughout life they can have a detrimental, measurable effect on mental, physical and cognitive health.”

The study, summarized in Medical News Today, resulted in these major findings:

  • Older adults with negative attitudes towards aging had slower walking speed and worse cognitive abilities two years later, compared to older adults with more positive attitudes towards aging.
  • This was true even after participants’ medications, mood, their life circumstances and other health changes that had occurred over the same two-year period were accounted for.
  • Furthermore, negative attitudes towards aging seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted. Frail older adults are at risk of multiple health problems including worse cognition. In the TILDA sample frail participants with negative attitudes towards aging had worse cognition compared to participants who were not frail. However frail participants with positive attitudes towards aging had the same level of cognitive ability as their non-frail peers.

The researchers concluded that these findings have important implications for media, policymakers, practitioners and society more generally. They pointed out that, unfortunately, societal attitudes towards aging are predominantly negative. And yet, everyone will grow older, and if these attitudes persist they will continue to diminish quality of life.

The issue this raises for me is the need to identify what underlies and fuels the negative attitudes about getting older to begin with? What are the cultural, social and other forces at play in our society that cast a negative expectation about aging? Those are the issues that don't receive enough attention, in my view. They concern socially conditioned values, beliefs and expectations that impact peoples' sense of what they are living and working for; their overall purpose of life.

dlabier@CenterProgressive.org

Blog: Progressive Impact

Center for Progressive Development

© 2016 Douglas LaBier