It's a common saying: "You're only as old as you feel." Now research indicates that there is some truth to that statement. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that older adults who describe themselves as spry recover more quickly from serious disabilities than seniors who describe themselves as decrepit.
The study was conducted by researchers from Yale University. Becca R. Levy and her colleagues said that the examination began because there had been few studies examining why some seniors recovered from disability while others did not. They recruited 700 participants who were 70 years old or older. None were disabled at the start of the study. During the 11 years that researchers studied them, 600 participants became disabled for at least a month.
Researchers rated the participants' quality of life based on four criteria: bathing, dressing, transferring, and walking. All of these activities are considered essential activities in daily life, and are strongly linked with longevity and the use of health services. Researchers also asked participants to describe older adults with the first five words or phrases that came to mind, which researchers ranked from 1 to 5. Words with a negative connotation, like "decrepit", were given a 1; words with a positive connotation, like "spry", were given a 5.
The study found that those who had a positive attitude of old age were 44 percent more likely to recover completely from severe disability. Researchers also discovered that people who had a positive attitude of the elderly were 23 percent more likely to progress from a severe disability to a mild one.
"This research suggests that we might want to think about the role of positive health stereotypes in disability," Levy said to HealthDay.
Researchers said that a number of factors could be at play. A positive attitude about aging could help buffer against stress and mitigate cardiovascular problems.
Researchers also theorized that people who believed that older people could still be in good shape were more likely to attend rehabilitation and perform exercises that could help them recover from disability.
Fortunately, one expert says views on aging have been changing. "Active life spans have increased for older people, even from just 20 years ago," said Gary Kennedy, the director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, who was unaffiliated with the study. "That might help make people's perspectives more positive."