Healthy Living

Optimism, Resilience Key to Happiness in Old Age

elderly man
Image REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Getting old, losing physical and mental abilities have been linked to feeling sad and depressed in old age. However, a new study has found that ageing may be associated with happiness for many people.

About 40 million adults in the U.S. are over age 65 now. According to estimates 77 million Americans will turn 65 in the next decade which translates to about 10,000 people celebrating birthday each day for the next 10 years.

The study conducted by researchers from University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Stanford University found that people reported increased well-being in old age.

The study included more than 1,006 older adults in San Diego who were between the ages of 50 and 99. The study was based on telephonic survey. Researchers asked people to rate their social engagement and overall health along with physical condition.

"Sometimes the most relevant outcomes are from the perspective of the subjects themselves," said J Dilip V. Jeste, MD, lead investigator of the study.

The study found that it is resilience and depression, and not physical health that affect people's well-being in old age.

"Even though older age was closely associated with worse physical and cognitive functioning, it was also related to better mental functioning," said Colin Depp, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine and co-author of the study.

Researchers found that people who felt that they were physically and mentally fit, those with high education and those who had greater optimism and resilience were more likely to report higher rates of well-being.

Optimism was consistently associated with people regarding their lives as successful. Researchers found that people who had poor physical health but high resilience reported levels of well-being that were comparable to that of  people who had good physical health but low resilience.

"It was clear to us that, even in the midst of physical or cognitive decline, individuals in our study reported feeling that their well-being had improved with age," Jeste said.

The increase in well-being in old age remained even after the researchers accounted for factors like income, education and marriage.

Jeste suggests that physicians caring for the aged need to be more optimistic about ageing. Though there is going to be an impact on the healthcare system, it may not be as bad as being projected. "Successfully aging older adults can be a great resource for younger generations," he said.

Another related survey conducted in 2009  found that people over 65 say that they have more time for their families and hobbies. They even have more financial security and not having to go to work. About six people out of ten in this survey said that they gained more respect and were less stressed.

"Perfect physical health is neither necessary nor sufficient. There is potential for enhancing successful aging by fostering resilience and treating or preventing depression," Jeste concluded.

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