By Richard Ueberfluss
An interesting story in the Wall Street Journal reported on a Yale School of Public Health study that found that “older individuals who were subliminally exposed to positive messages about aging showed long-term improvements in self-image, strength and balance.”
In fact, there’s growing evidence that if our perceptions about aging are negative, we are far more likely to succumb to declining health and disability.
The article recommends taking a real approach to aging. Don’t give in to stereotypes that as we age we should expect our health to dramatically deteriorate. In tests after tests negative stereotypes have been shown to lead to poor heath results. People who adopt negative stereotypes are more likely to exhibit signs associated with aging: shaky handwriting, greater risk of cardiac disease and have a harder time recovering from serious illnesses. Worse, studies show that people who think that aging is associated with illness, live 7.5 years shorter than those with a more positive outlook.
Those who think more positively than others tend to express greater satisfaction in their relationships and feel less lonely or depressed.
Studies also show that those who watched a lot of television were more likely to have negative views of aging, due largely to the depiction of older people on television. Unfortunately, few people are speaking out against ageism, which could be considered as a type of prejudice.
Experts recommend employing techniques that interrupt negative ideas about stereotyped groups like seniors, and substituting more positive thoughts. The key is to help eliminate biases through education and more positive role model portrayal of seniors. In other words, own the aging process.
Data indicate that individuals 40 and older report feeling 20 percent younger that their actual age.
One doctor suggested that by distancing yourself from your age you also distance yourself from negative age stereotypes. However, there also is a warning not to deny one’s age because it can interfere with important developmental tasks that should take place in later life.
Dr. Bill Thomas. Co-founder of ChangingAging.org, is quoted in The Wall Street Journal piece saying: “”it’s important to look not just at the negative changes that take place as we age, but also at the positives, such as the improvements scientific studies have shown over time in our interpersonal skills, relationships, expertise and knowledge. While it’s important to accept out negatives—you may, for example, no longer be the runner or tennis player you once were—that doesn’t mean you cannot adapt your game or find other outlets with similar payoffs.”
Another study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that maintaining or improving self-esteem could help prevent health problems typically associated with aging. When people’s self-esteem decreased, they had an increase in cortisol levels, and vice versa. The link between self-esteem and cortisol levels was especially strong in people with a history of stress or depression.
Researchers found that because self-esteem is associated with psychological well-being and physical health, raising self-esteem would be an ideal way to help prevent health problems later in life. Increasingly, in addition to avoiding falling prey to negative stereotypes, exercise helps seniors feel better about themselves and the aging process.
That’s one reason that exercise is an important part of the home care health regimen. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave seniors feeling happier and more relaxed. Seniors also feel better about their appearance and themselves when they exercise regularly, which can boost confidence and improve the self-esteem of seniors.
Having home caregivers and aides in regular contact with seniors can help boost self-esteem, and look for early signs of depression that can be alleviated through exercise or physician advice.
The bottom line is that aging really is mind over matter, so by creating a positive aging experience, seniors can live longer and happier lives.