Category Archives: Wellbeing

Neurological basis of improving emotional stability over age

Contrary to the pervasive negative stereotypes of ageing, emotional functions actually tend to improve in later life, however, the brain mechanisms underlying these changes in emotional function over age remain unknown. This study demonstrate that emotional stability improves steadily over seven decades (12–79 years) and demonstrates some of the neurological changes involved. The improvement in emotional function was found to be independent from the common loss of ‘grey matter’ in the brain. The researchers propose “an integrative model in which accumulated life experience and the motivation for meaning over acquisition in older age contribute to plasticity of medial prefrontal systems, achieving a greater selective control over emotional functions.” 

To read the original research paper click here

Gratitude lessens death anxiety

Death anxiety is a negative psychological reaction to the prospect of our mortality. It is related to human beings’ inability to accept mortality and is a common phenomenon. This study investigated whether a brief gratitude intervention could reduce death anxiety.  Participants in the gratitude cohort were asked to recall and then write for about 20 minutes about gratitude-inducing events for which they felt “grateful, thankful, or appreciative.”  Participants in the gratitude cohort reported lower death anxiety than those in the control groups. By re-examining 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.

To see the original research paper click here

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.

To see the research

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

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.

Access to article here

Optimism associated with exceptional longevity

Optimism is a psychological attribute characterised as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes. It is an attitude to life which can be significantly undermined by the challenges often experience in later life. Numerous studies have reported that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die prematurely. The results of this new study go further and suggest that optimism is specifically related to 11 to 15% longer life spans, on average, and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond. These relations were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors (e.g., smoking, diet, and alcohol use).

These findings indicate that optimism is an important psychosocial resource for people to pay attention to and develop in later life. This is especially important as ageist stereotypes can begin to be internalised as people age.

Access to the original research here (behind a paywall)

Having sex in older age can make you happier and healthier

Sex is an essential part of human relationships – no matter what age. Contrary to many ageist assumptions older people do still have ! Recent research found that 85% of men aged 60–69 report being sexually active – as do 60% of those aged 70–79 and 32% of those aged 80 and over. Women were found to be less sexually active as they aged, but studies show that, just like men, many women also want to continue to have sex as they get older. 

Importantly, the research found that decline in sexual activity, desire, or function in older age appears to be an important indicator of future adverse health outcomes

For example, men who reported a decline in sexual desire were more likely to go on to develop cancer or other chronic illnesses that limited their daily activities. Men and women who reported a decrease in the frequency of sexual activities were also more likely to experience a deterioration in how they rated their level of health. And men with erectile dysfunction were also more likely to be diagnosed with cancer or coronary heart disease. It’s important to note, however, that changes in sexual desire or function could have been a result of early-stage, undiagnosed disease.

The research also found that older adults enjoy life more when they are sexually active. And those who experience a decline in sexual activity report poorer well-being than those who maintain their levels of sexual desire, activity and function in later life. We also found that men who are sexually active in later life continue to have better cognitive performance compared to those who don’t. The research also suggests that people who engage in sexual intercourse with their partner are also likely to share a closer relationship. And closeness to one’s partner is linked with better mental health.

Access to the full research paper here

Different ways of retiring have different impacts on satisfaction with life

The ways that people retire can differ significantly – particularly with regard to the choice and control involved. Researchers examined the relationship between satisfaction with life and nature of retirement amongst 1,388 workers in multinational corporations and government institutions in Holland.

Their perceived satisfaction with life (SWL) was measured on two occasions, separated by 6 years. When researchers examined the impact of a voluntary choice to retire, they found that this had a positive impact on SWL scores. When the researchers looked at those whose retirement had been compulsory or related to health issues, they found that SWL scores were strongly negatively impacted.

The findings have implications for the development of organisational initiatives aimed at helping workers transition into retirement in such a way as to maintain high levels of subjective well-being.

Access the full report here