Good attitudes towards aging help seniors cope with stress

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Having negative attitudes may even increase health risks, researchers say

Whether you’ve yet to find that first gray hair or don’t have many left to speak of, a new study shows that having a positive outlook on aging can be beneficial to your health. Researchers at North Carolina State University have found that having a positive attitude towards aging can make older adults more resilient when they encounter a stressful situation.

Initially, the researchers wanted to conduct their study to see why responses to stress in older adults were so varied.

“There has been a lot of research on how older adults respond to stress, but the findings have been mixed: some studies have found that older adults are less resilient than younger adults at resonding to stress; some have found that they’re more resilient; and some have found no difference. We wanted to see whether attitudes toward aging could account for this disparity in research findings,” said Dr. Jennifer Bellingtier, lead author of the study.

Responding to stress

In order to test their theory, the researchers analyzed the results of a questionnaire that was given on eight consecutive days to 43 participants between the ages of 60 and 96. After each questionnaire was taken, the volunteers were asked questions that measured their attitudes on aging.

Questions at the beginning of the study ranged from issues of usefulness – such as asking if participants felt as useful as they were when they were younger – to whether or not they were happier in their younger days. Other questions addressed daily stresses that participants faced on a day-to-day basis. Negative emotions, such as anger, fear, irritability, and distress, were also measured.

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that participants who had more positive attitudes towards aging had better responses to the stresses they faced in daily life.

“We found that people in the study who had more positive attitudes toward aging were more resilient in response to stress – meaning that there wasn’t a significant increase in negative emotions. Meanwhile, study participants with more negative attitudes toward aging showed a sharp increase in negative emotional affect on stressful days,” said Bellingtier.

Health risks

The findings of the study indicate that quality of life for older individuals can be tied to their attitudes, which could have consequences on their health.

“This tells us that the way we think about aging has very real consequences for how we respond to difficult situations when we’re older. That affects our quality of life and may also have health ramifications. For example, more adverse emotional responses to stress have been associated with increased cardiovascular health risks,” said senior author Shevaun Neupert.

While their work has the potential to apply to a wide range of people around the world, Bellingtier and her colleagues believe that more work must be done in order to prove additional connections.

“Attitudes toward aging vary widely across cultures, and more work woud need to be done to determine the importance of aging attitudes in other settings,” she said.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences

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