Older women, individuals who have initiative and those who have suffered a recent loss are more likely to be compassionate to strangers, according to new research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
Researchers note that compassionate behaviors are associated with better health and well-being as we age. They say that their findings offer insights into ways to help people with “deficits in compassion,” which puts them at risk for becoming lonely and isolated later in life.
“We are interested in anything that can help older people age more successfully,” said Lisa Eyler, Ph.D, a professor of psychiatry.
“We know that social connections are important to health and well-being, and we know that people who want to be kind to others garner greater social support. If we can foster compassion in people, we can improve their health and well-being, and maybe even longevity.”
The study is based on a survey of 1,006 randomly selected adults in San Diego County, aged 50 and over.
It identified three factors that were predictive of a person’s self-reported compassion: gender, recent suffering, and high mental resiliency.
Women, independent of their age, income, education, race, marital status, or mental health status, scored higher on the compassion test, on average, than men.
Higher levels of compassion were also observed among both men and women who had experienced a personal loss, such as a death in the family or illness, in the last year.
Finally, people who reported confidence in their ability to bounce back from hard times also reported more empathy toward strangers and joy from helping those in need.
“What is exciting is that we are identifying aspects of successful aging that we can foster in both men and women,” said Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, and director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging.
“Mental resiliency can be developed through meditation, mindfulness, and stress reduction practices. We can also teach people that the silver lining to adversity is an opportunity for personal growth.”
The study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, John A. Hartford Foundation, and Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, was published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.