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Effect of stress reduction through meditation on mortality of older people with high blood pressure

Psychosocial stress contributes to high blood pressure and subsequent heart attacks and mortality. Researchers in this study evaluated, over the long term, all-cause and cause-specific mortality in older people who had high blood pressure and who participated in randomised controlled trials that included meditation and other behavioural stress-decreasing interventions.  Compared with controls, the meditation group showed a 23% decrease in all-cause mortality. Further analyses showed a 30% decrease in the rate of cardiovascular mortality and a 49% decrease in the rate of mortality. These results suggest that a specific stress-decreasing approach used in the prevention and control of high blood pressure, such as meditation programmes, may contribute to decreased mortality from all causes and cardiovascular disease in older subjects who have systemic high blood pressure.

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How negative ageing stereotypes create dependency among older adults

This interesting study examined the effects of negative ageing stereotypes on self-reported loneliness, risk-taking, subjective health, and help-seeking behaviour in a sample of older adults. The aim of the study was to show the detrimental effects of negative aging stereotypes on older adults’ self-evaluations and behaviours, the well known increases in dependency often observed in health care environments (including hospitals). The researchers explored the effects of positive, neutral or negative stereotypes. As predicted, negative stereotype activation resulted in lower levels of risk taking, subjective health and extraversion, and in higher feelings of loneliness and a more frequent help-seeking behaviour. These findings suggest that the mere activation of negative stereotypes can have broad and deleterious effects on older individuals’ self-evaluation and functioning, which in turn may contribute to the often observed dependency among older people.

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Reducing cardiovascular stress with positive self stereotypes of ageing

It is increasingly recognised that stress contributes to the development of heart disease. In this fascinating study, researchers examined whether ageing self-stereotypes, or older individuals’ beliefs about elderly people, could influence cardiovascular function. Older people were subliminally exposed to either positive or negative ageing stereotypes. Then all participants faced mathematical and verbal challenges. Those exposed to the negative aging stereotypes demonstrated a heightened cardiovascular response to stress, measured by systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate, compared with those exposed to positive aging stereotypes. It appears that the negative aging stereotypes acted as direct stressors, whereas the positive aging stereotypes reduced cardiovascular stress. These findings indicate that negative ageing stereotypes may contribute to adverse health outcomes in older people without their awareness. The results also suggest that positive ageing stereotypes could be used in interventions to reduce cardiovascular stress.

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Optimism linked to better health in later life

Expecting good things to happen appears to instigate a self fulfilling prophecy leading to better health and well being. A recent study has found that higher optimism increases the chances of staying healthy in later life.

Data came from the US Health and Retirement Study which looked at a nationally representative sample of 5,698 aged 50 and older. The participants undertook face-to-face interviews in 2006 and 2008, as well as follow-up measures every two years until 2014.

The results revealed that higher optimism at start of the study was linked to an increased chance of staying healthy (good physical and cognitive functioning and no major chronic diseases) over the next six to eight years, even after accounting for other factors such as race, income, depression, alcohol use, smoking, physical activity, and body weight. Participants who scored in the top quartile for optimism were 24% more likely to remain healthy as compared to those in the bottom quartile for optimism.

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Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes

Research by Becca Levy and colleagues has found ageism to exist in social networking sites. She conducted a content analysis of each publicly accessible Facebook group that concentrated on older individuals. The site “Descriptions” of the 84 groups, with a total of 25,489 members, were analysed. The mean age category of the group creators was 20–29; all were younger than 60 years. Consistent with the research hypothesis, the Descriptions of all but one of these groups focused on negative age stereotypes. Among these Descriptions, 74% excoriated older individuals, 27% infantilized them, and 37% advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping. Facebook has the potential to break down barriers between generations; in practice, it may have erected new ones.

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Gratitude can be effective in reducing anxiety about death

This study investigated whether a brief gratitude induction could reduce death anxiety. 83 Chinese older adults (mean age = 62.7, SD = 7.13) were randomly assigned into one of three conditions: gratitude, hassle, and neutral, in which they wrote different types of life events before responding to measures of death anxiety and affect. Participants in the gratitude induction reported lower death anxiety than the hassle and the neutral condition, whereas no difference was observed for the latter two conditions. There was no experimental effect on positive affect, and a significant effect on negative affect but which did not favor the gratitude condition. By reexamining life events with a thankful attitude, people may become less fearful of death due to a sense that life has been well-lived. Because gratitude can be induced using a very brief procedure, there are broad applications in clinical and health-care settings for the relief of death anxiety.

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Greater anxiety about death associated with less attention to own health care needs

The relationship of death anxiety/fear to health beliefs and behaviors was examined. Using a variety of survey tools – the modified Death Anxiety Scale (DAS), the Death Anxiety Questionnaire (DAQ), the Death Attitude Profile (DAP), the Health Opinion Survey (HOS), and an item asking whether the participant had visited a physician at least once a year for a routine examination, the results indicated that those showing higher levels of anxiety about death were less likely to be actively involved in their health care. 

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Relationship between age identity and pessimism about cognitive ageing

Drawing on past studies of age identity, this research examined whether feeling older was associated with more pessimistic views about cognitive ageing. Using respondents aged 55 years and older in the Midlife Development in the United States study, researchers estimated a series of linear regression models to predict people’s dispositions toward their cognitive ageing. The main comparison is whether the effects of age identity on cognitive aging differ for men and women. Beyond the effects of chronological age, older age identities were associated with more pessimistic dispositions about cognitive ageing. This relationship, however, was found only among women. Age identity shapes cognitive ageing dispositions, though the gendered nature of this relationship remains somewhat unclear. The findings give further evidence about the far-reaching implications of age identity for successful ageing and suggest that future work could explain how subjective aging processes may differ by gender.

Feeling younger than actual age associated with better satisfaction with life

Research indicates that maintaining a more youthful identity (i.e., a larger discrepancy between actual and subjective age) is associated with higher levels of subjective wellbeing, even when controlling for chronological age, gender, socioeconomic status, marital and employment status, and objective and subjective health. The results are consistent with the argument that feeling younger than one’s actual age may function as a positive illusion that promotes better levels of satisfaction with life and wellbeing.

Impact of stereotypical attitudes on health and wellbeing

Ageism largely remains a socially tolerated form of discrimination. From birthday cards to anti-ageing advertisements and comedy sketches, stereotypical ideas about older people and the ageing process abound. While generally trivialized in mainstream culture, this article argues that ageism is, in fact, a serious matter. Drawing from a growing evidence base, the article highlights the significant and largely detrimental impact that ageist stereotypes have on people’s outcomes in later life. It then goes on to analyse some of the possible mechanisms through which stereotypes generate this effect, and finally concludes with a brief outline of some of the psychosocial interventions that might enable older people to weaken or neutralize the toxic effects of internalized negative self-perceptions of ageing. Note: the structural and power relationship dimensions of ageism, while hugely important, are not considered within this article as its focus is on the psychological and emotional dimensions and their impact on personal health and well-being outcomes, an aspect of ageist stereotyping that is seldom discussed.

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