Surviving Grief
INTERESTING STUFF: 12 January 2013

Attitude Can Keep You Healthy

category_bug_journal2.gif If you have been reading Time Goes By for a couple of years or more, you know that there is growing evidence that your personal attitude toward getting old can affect your health and even your longevity.

I first reported on the work of Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, in 2004, and her startling discovery that a positive view of aging can extend life expectancy for up to seven-and-a-half years. As she wrote, then, at (no longer available online):

“…not only does a person’s perceptions of aging form when they are young and are reinforced for most of their lives, but the formation of these perceptions are unconsciously internalized. In short, by the time you reach a point in your life when your thoughts turn to aging, your negative – or positive – perceptions of yourself and others have already become part of our attitudes.”

Four years later, in 2008, Professor Levy had finished another study on how negative language affects elders which you can read about here:

“’Those little insults can lead to more negative images of aging,’ Dr. Levy said. ‘And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival.’”

I try to follow Ms. Levy's work closely but it's nice to have friends like Judith Graham, a frequent contributor to The New York Times's New Old Age Blog, to do the work for me sometimes. Recently, she reported on Levy's latest study:

”Her new findings about the impact of age stereotypes on older adults’ recovery from disability,” reports Graham, “is an extension of this body of work. In this case, Dr. Levy and her co-authors followed 598 adults age 70 and older in New Haven, Conn., from 1998 to 2008.

“Disability was defined as needing help with basic activities of daily living like bathing, dressing and walking, and its onset was typically precipitated by an illness or injury.

“Again, seniors with positive age stereotypes were much more likely to have good results and recover fully.”

Researchers like Becca Levy and others do not yet understand the mechanism, says Graham, by which positive attitudes toward age seem so strongly connected to health, wellbeing and, when necessary, good recovery of illness or injury. But they believe that tackling ageism can go a long way toward helping people live healthier, longer lives:

“'Even young kids have negative associations; they tell you that older adults are sick, slow, forgetful, no good,' said Dana Kotter-Gruehn, a visiting assistant professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

“Also generations need to be brought together so that 'people can experience what it means to be an older person' and stereotypes can be dispelled, Dr. Kotter-Gruehn said. This has been shown to help change people’s stereotypes about race and homosexuality, she noted.

“Closer to home, all of us who interact with older people can 'think about how to reinforce the more positive aspects of aging,' Dr. Levy said.

“'If all of us became a little more aware of the implications of our communications' — the tone of voice we use with seniors, the attitude we adopt, the use of loaded phrases or expressions, the extent to which we give older adults our full, undivided attention — 'that would help quite a lot.'”

You can read Judith Graham's complete report here. And watch your language. It could help us all live longer and healthier lives.

(Becca Levy and her co-authors published this study in The Journal of the American Medical Assocation which you can read here if you have a subscription.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Who Photoshopped the Corn Harvest?


Another blogger had a similarly themed post today: h
Message received.

If elementary and high schools hired seniors to walk halls and mentor students, there would be no need for guns, bullying.

Seniors and youth belong together.

Senior mentors would build relationships with students, share success stories, work on social skills, building bridges between cultural groups.

Seniors have tons of wisdom, untapped wisdom.

Use it, build on it.

I've long-maintained that each human unit (each of us) is made up of parts that function as a whole to provide optimum efficiency.
The mind is inextricably joined to the rest of the body.
If the mind is continually assaulted by negative information (old people are slow, intolerant of change, no longer relevant), the whole unit suffers.
Josef Goebbels famously said, "If you tell a lie long enough, people will believe it."

The truth is, I forget a lot. Why else would I keep a journal. Then again, I laugh a lot too. Perhaps they balance out.

I have long maintained that an optomistic attitude governs the ability of the body to heal, so it seems logical that it would add to longevity as well.

I do think that the power of the mind is often overlooked. Dr. Levy's findings are interesting.

It means getting out in the community a little more. There are a lot of places we elders can interact with youth. Literacy tutoring for instance. You can change an attitude and maybe make a difference in a young life.

Two of my closest friends tutor at an inner city school & they & the children have benefited. The teachers love 'em. :)Dee

I am an introvert. My mental health is not dependent on "getting out in the community." I don't mind people in small doses, but no gatherings...please.

I think a positive attitude is an important ingredient in the living of a happier life which for me involves my husband, my dogs, parrots, books and my garden. I stay healthy so I can enjoy them.

Longivity without my husband and the things that make life worth living is nothing.

Fortunately, his health is pretty good although at age 84 he is a bit older than me.

Whatever my time it is my life.


I guess I'm lucky as I had good role models for aging. Life is good and I plan on keeping going for quite a while yet. My boss at the welfare center just asked me to sign another one-year contract, so I'll keep on teaching English to Koreans. For me, getting out to socialize and exercise while getting paid a little are all good reasons to keep working.

Thank you, Donna--as a fellow introvert I appreciate your comments. I do "get out in the community" to some extent in that I work P/T and volunteer for a cat rescue agency. Other than that, my husband (also an introvert) and I are not very "social" but we don't feel that we lack anything in our lives as a result. I'm not convinced that being social is a necessity for everyone, especially for the introverts of the world.

As you have observed, longevity without the things that make life worth living is not, in and of itself, worth much. Admittedly, however, I would have a difficult row to hoe if he predeceases me (I'm 76 and he's 83).

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