It's natural for seniors to have uneven attitudes about aging. However, research tells us that having a positive outlook can directly impact quality of life and health in older adults. Here’s a closer look at the research, along with tips for caregivers looking to help seniors in their care adopt more positive attitudes.
The Attitude Imperative
Aging comes with a certain amount of unavoidable stressors. From health woes to financial concerns, these issues can be stressful. However, researchers at North Carolina State University have determined that stressful situations don’t impact all seniors the same way, according to a recent Consumer Affairs report based on research published in the Journals of Gerontology. A differentiating factor? Whether or not they have positive attitudes about aging.
After studying 43 participants between the ages of 60 and 96 about a range of issues pertaining to stresses, negative emotions, and perceived usefulness, researchers determined that the most positive participants were also the ones with the best attitudes about aging. Reveals lead author Jennifer Bellingtier, “We found that people in the study who had more positive attitudes toward aging were more resilient in response to stress—meaning that there wasn’t a significant increase in negative emotions. Meanwhile, study participants with more negative attitudes toward aging showed a sharp increase in negative emotional affect on stressful days.”
Of course, we know that less stress corresponds with a better quality of life. But it’s also important to acknowledge the health benefits of positivity—and corresponding stress reduction—for seniors. Says senior author Shevaun Neupert, “[The findings] tell us that the way we think about aging has very real consequences for how we respond to difficult situations when we’re older. This affects our quality of life and may also have health ramifications. For example, more adverse emotional responses to stress have been associated with increased cardiovascular health risks.”
Another thing to keep in mind? While occasional sad feelings may be a natural part of aging, depression is not.
Watch this video for more on depression in the elderly:
Caregiver Tips for Supporting Positivity
It’s one thing to talk about having a more positive attitude; it’s another to actually become more positive. For seniors, in particular, this can be an especially challenging prospect. All of which begs the question: Is it possible for caregivers to help seniors be more positive? The answer is a resounding “yes,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
One of the most effective ways to cultivate more beneficial outlooks, according to the APA? Making connections and keeping them. Spending time with family members and friends; accepting and offering help from others; involvement in community groups, such as faith-based organizations; and helping others are all ways seniors can become more resilient.
It’s also helpful to encourage seniors to accept that change is a part of life. Continues the APA, “Certain goals may no longer be attainable as adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.” At the same time, accepting that certain goals are unattainable doesn’t mean giving up on goals. Instead, experts suggest setting new ones. Seniors who have realistic goals and take steps to move forward toward them have more to look forward to. Achieving these goals, meanwhile, can help seniors adopt more positive views of themselves.
Other resilience-building tactics for seniors? Practicing self-care; exploring new opportunities for self-discovery, such as meditation; and finding meaningful things to do. Particularly in today’s society, in which many seniors are marginalized and/or ignored, helping them to contribute can lead to a myriad of positive outcomes.
“The keystone for successful aging is our ability to enjoy good health and function,” proposes public health professor Linda P. Fried for The Atlantic. And while the old adage “attitude is everything” may sound trite, the research tells us that it’s also true. The takeaway? Supporting more positive outlooks for senior may be an invaluable—and until now, underrated—component of good care.
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