Thursday, June 14, 2018

People with positive attitudes about aging likely to live longer, have better health; rural populations tend to be older

How you think about growing old can influence how well you age, says a growing body of scientific research and global data collected and analyzed by nonprofit journalism organization Orb Media. That's especially relevant in rural areas, where populations tend to be older.

"Individuals with a positive attitude towards old age are likely to live longer and in better health than those with a negative attitude. And those with a negative view of aging are more likely to suffer a heart attack, a stroke or die several years sooner," Jim Rendon and Olufemi Terry write for Orb. "Older people in countries with low levels of respect for the elderly are at risk for worse mental and physical health and higher levels of poverty."

Projected percentage of country population over 65 in 2050. Source: United
World Population Prospects. (Orb Media graphic)
Why does it matter?

Orb reports that if population trends continue, by 2050 nearly one of six people in the world will be over 65, and close to half a billion will be older than 80. In 2050, seniors would make up nearly 16 percent of the world's population, compared to today's 8 percent.

In the U.S., the Census Bureau estimates that one in five people will be over the age of 65 by 2030, and by 2035, seniors will outnumber children younger than 18.

Those are the basic figures, reflecting quantity, but what about quality of life for those people? Research shows that a simple shift in attitude can make a difference in how well we age, especially in a world that often has negative views about growing older.

A World Health Organization analysis found that 60 percent of people surveyed across 57 countries reported relatively low levels of respect for older people. A separate Orb analysis found that the level of respect for seniors varied "significantly from country to country."

Of the 58 countries ranked in the Orb study -- in order of how they respect their elderly, with 1 being "very low" and 5 being "very high" -- the United States ranked 50th, scoring 3.29.

Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, and a leading researcher in the field, has found "Those with positive views about old age live longer and age better," Orb reports. "They are less likely to be depressed or anxious, and they show increased well-being and recover more quickly from disability. They also are less likely to develop dementia and the markers of Alzheimer’s disease."

"In one study, Levy found that Americans with more positive views on aging who were tracked over decades lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative views," Orb reports, adding that studies in Germany and Australia have found similar results. In addition, other studies have shown that "the cells of those who have more positive views of the elderly actually aged more slowly than those who had negative views."

Levy told Orb that people with negative views of aging have higher levels of stress, which has been linked to a range of health problems. She added that those with more positive views of aging are also more likely to exercise, eat a balanced diet and go to the doctor. She also said people can decide for themselves how they think about aging, and that her research has found that people who who watch less TV, participate less in social media, and have more resistant personalities are more likely to hold more positive views of aging.

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