Category Archives: Health

Attributing illness to ‘old age’ increases risk of mortality

The dissemination of stereotypical beliefs about ageing have led to endorsement of the myth that ‘to be old is to be ill.’ This negative stereotype can have very concerning effects on health and longevity.

An interesting piece of research examined older people’s beliefs about the causes of their chronic illness (ie, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) and tested the hypothesis that attributing the onset of illness to ‘old age’ is associated with negative health outcomes. A series of multiple regressions (controlling for chronological age, gender, income, severity of chronic conditions, functional status and health locus of control) demonstrated that ‘old age’ attributions were associated with more frequent perceived health symptoms, poorer health maintenance behaviours and a greater likelihood of mortality at 2-year follow-up. The probability of death was more than double among participants who strongly endorsed the ‘old age’ attribution as compared to those who did not (36% vs. 14%).

The findings are further evidence of the toxic impact of internalised negative stereotypes about ageing and should be considered as an important component of interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of older people.

The research can be found by clicking here.

Sense of purpose reduces mortality

Purpose in life refers to the sense that life has meaning and direction and that one’s goals and potential are being achieved or are achievable. Greater purpose in life has been shown to be associated with several psychological outcomes, including a more positive outlook on life, happiness, satisfaction, and self-esteem. Most importantly research has also found that sense of purpose appears to reduce mortality.

One piece of research examined the association of purpose in life with mortality in >1200 community-dwelling older persons. During 5 years of follow-up, greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of death; more specifically, the hazard rate of a person with a high score on the purpose in life measure was about 57% of that for a person with a low score. The association of purpose in life with mortality did not vary by age, gender, education, or race, and the finding persisted after adjustment for several important covariates, including depressive symptoms, disability, neuroticism, the number of medical conditions, and income.

The finding that purpose in life is related to longevity in older people suggests that aspects of human flourishing—particularly the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behaviour—contribute to health and wellbeing in later life.

To access the full report click here.

Older people feel ‘younger’ when they have sense of control

Research shows that older adults who feel they have greater control over their lives tend to feel younger. This is important because both ‘feelings of control’ and ‘feeling younger’ are associated with better health and wellbeing outcomes for older people. For example, younger perceived age is associated with longer life expectancy and good mental health. Importantly the results indicate that both beliefs about control and age can change daily, which means that these beliefs also may be changed through various interventions including psychological and personal development strategies.

For further details on the research click here

Pessimism shortens lives

Research into the differing outcomes associated with optimism and pessimism highlights significantly differing results between the two.

The phenomena of ‘pessimism’ or ‘optimism’ can be understood by examining how people explain life events (i.e. their explanatory style). Optimists explain positive events in terms of personal, permanent causes and negative events in terms of external, temporary causes. Pessimists react in the opposite way.

In the study a total of 839 patients completed an Optimism/Pessimism scale between 1962 and 1965 as self-referred general medical patients. Thirty years later, the status of each of these patients was ascertained. Among these, a 10-point score increase on the Optimism-Pessimism scale (eg, more pessimistic) was associated with a 19% increase in the risk of mortality.

The researchers concluded that a pessimistic explanatory style is significantly associated with mortality.

For further information on the study click here

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.

For access to the original study click here

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.

For further information click here

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.

To explore the research further click here

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.

To access the research (pay wall in force)

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. 

To read the research

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.