New research finds that a personâ€™s attitude toward aging can affect both their physical and cognitive health in later life.
Investigators from Trinity College Dublin conducted the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) and discovered participants with positive attitudes towards aging had improved cognitive ability.
Conversely, negative attitudes to aging affected both physical and cognitive health in later years, new research reveals.
Important findings from the research include:
- older adults with negative attitudes towards aging had slower walking speed and worse cognitive abilities two years later, compared to older adults with more positive attitudes towards aging;
- this was true even after participants’ medications, mood, their life circumstances, and other health changes that had occurred over the same two-year period were accounted for;
- furthermore, negative attitudes towards aging seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted. For example, frail older adults are at risk of multiple health problems including worse cognition.
In the TILDA sample, frail participants with negative attitudes towards aging had worse cognition compared to participants who were not frail. However, frail participants with positive attitudes towards aging had the same level of cognitive ability as their non-frail peers.
Research findings appear in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Lead researcher Dr. Deirdre Robertson commented, “The way we think about, talk about and write about aging may have direct effects on health. Everyone will grow older and if negative attitudes towards aging are carried throughout life they can have a detrimental, measurable effect on mental, physical, and cognitive health.”
“Researchers and policy makers can work together to develop and implement societal-wide interventions to target attitudes and perhaps, ultimately, find novel ways of maintaining health in later life,” said Dr. Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator of the TILDA study.
Investigators believe the information gained from TILDA provides a unique opportunity to study attitudes towards aging. The study was distinctive as it tracked health changes over time in a nationally representative sample of community-dwelling older adults.
Although people are living longer, societal attitudes towards aging are predominantly negative. Therefore, the discoveries have important implications for media, policymakers, practitioners, and society more generally.
Understanding that attitude can play a role in health throughout life may help policymakers develop community strategies that can enhance quality of life in later years.