New research shows that having a greater sense of control over their lives may help older adults feel younger and that, in turn, could help improve their cognitive abilities, longevity and overall quality of life.
“Research suggests that a younger subjective age, or when people feel younger than their chronological age, is associated with a variety of positive outcomes in older individuals, including better memory performance, health and longevity,” said Jennifer Bellingtier, Ph.D., of Friedrich Schiller University in Germany, who presented her research at the 2018 American Psychological Convention.
“Our research suggests that subjective age changes on a daily basis and older adults feel significantly younger on days when they have a greater sense of control.”
For the study, Bellingtier and co-author Shevaun Neupert, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University, recruited 116 older adults between the ages of 60 and 90 and 106 younger adults between the ages of 18 and 36 and asked them to complete surveys each day for nine days.
Participants were asked to respond to a series of statements on the level of control they felt they had each day (for example, “In the past 24 hours, I had quite a bit of influence on the degree to which I could be involved in activities,”) and were asked how old they felt that day.
The researchers found significant day-to-day variability in subjective age in both groups over the course of the study. They also found a significant association between perceived level of control each day and subjective age in the older adult group, but not the younger group.
“Shaping the daily environment in ways that allow older adults to exercise more control could be a helpful strategy for maintaining a youthful spirit and overall well-being,” said Bellingtier.
“For example, some interventions could be formal, such as a regular meeting with a therapist to discuss ways to take control in situations where individuals can directly influence events, and how to respond to situations that they cannot control. Smartphone apps could be developed to deliver daily messages with suggestions for ways to enhance control that day and improve a person’s overall feeling of control.”
An intervention could also be something as simple as giving nursing home residents the opportunity to make more choices in their daily lives so that they can exercise more control, she noted.