Older adults who keep a positive attitude about aging are more resilient when faced with stressful situations, according to a new study at North Carolina State University.
“There has been a lot of research on how older adults respond to stress, but the findings have been mixed: some studies have found that older adults are less resilient than younger adults at responding to stress; some have found that they’re more resilient; and some have found no difference,” said lead author Jennifer Bellingtier, a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State.
“We wanted to see whether attitudes toward aging could account for this disparity in research findings. In other words, are older adults with positive attitudes about aging more resilient than older adults with negative attitudes?”
The researchers found that the answer is yes — a positive attitude makes all the difference when dealing with the stress of daily life.
“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,” Bellingtier says. “Meanwhile, study participants with more negative attitudes toward aging showed a sharp increase in negative emotional affect on stressful days.”
For the study, the researchers asked 43 adults aged 60 to 96 to complete a daily questionnaire for eight consecutive days. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked about their attitudes toward aging. For example, they were asked if they felt as useful now as they had been when they were younger, and whether they were as happy now as when they were younger.
The daily questionnaire asked about any stress they’d experienced that day, as well as the extent to which they experienced negative emotions, such as fear, irritability, or distress.
The researchers also accounted for the personality of study participants, such as whether they were generally upbeat and optimistic or more cynical. They found that those with positive feelings about aging were more resilient to stress, while those with pessimistic attitudes about aging were more emotionally reactive on stressful days.
“This tells us that the way we think about aging has very real consequences for how we respond to difficult situations when we’re older,” said senior author Dr. Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State.
“That 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.”
Source: North Carolina State University