Your View of Aging

Does your view of aging matter?

Does a positive view of aging predict living better?

Part of developing a positive mental attitude involves adopting a positive attitude toward growing older. Unfortunately, many Americans perceive aging in a negative light. Could negative perceptions toward aging affect our longevity and health?

Remarkably, as of 2002, no one had bothered to address this question. Researchers from Yale and Miami Universities realized that data from an earlier study, the Ohio Longitudinal Study on Aging and Retirement (OLSAR), could answer this question. Investigators contacted residents of Oxford, Ohio (home of Miami University) who were cognitively intact and at least 50 years of age. A cohort of 560 people ranging in age from 50 to 94 was followed over an average of 22.6 years. The participants’ self-perception of aging was scored on a five-point scale. Participants with a high positive self-perception of aging score lived an average of 7.5 years longer than participants with a low positive self-perception of aging score. An astounding difference!

Would a positive self-perception of aging predict better health as well as greater longevity? An international groups of researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 19 long-term studies to find out. Subjects had an average age of 63 at baseline. Persons with a positive self-perception of aging were 43 percent more likely than those with a negative self-perception of aging to experience better health and greater longevity. The following cascade of events could account for these findings. Positive subjective aging leads to a positive self-concept, which leads to better health behaviors. Making better health choices leads to better health, which promotes greater longevity. Your perceptions of your own aging can serve as self-fulfilling prophesies that influence your life course for better or worse. If your perceptions of your aging are negative, you can change your mind. If so, you’ll likely enjoy better health and live longer, thus expanding your Quality of Lifespan

Do the negative health effects of negative age stereotypes extend to brain pathologies associated with Alzheimer’s disease and brain structure? Might a positive view of aging predict a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Researchers examined data from physically healthy participants free from dementia at baseline in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Magnetic-resonance-imaging scans measured participants’ hippocampal volume, usually annually, over 10 years. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that’s critical to maintain intact memory. Negative age stereotypes were evaluated at the same points in time as the brain scans.

Age-stereotype scores were grouped as positive or negative. Over 10 years of follow-up, participants in the negative age-stereotype group had a three-fold higher rate of decline in hippocampal volume than those in the positive age stereotype group. In a companion study, researchers autopsied the brains of 74 deceased participants to evaluate Alzheimer’s disease pathologies (amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles). As negative age-stereotype scores increased from low to moderate to severe, a composite measure of Alzheimer’s disease pathologies also increased. Thus, replacing negative-age stereotypes with positive-age stereotypes might help maintain memory (by retaining more hippocampal volume) and cognitive function (by reducing Alzheimer’s disease brain pathologies).

These studies indicate that our attitude toward aging profoundly affects our health and longevity. Why not develop a positive mental attitude and live life to the fullest?

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