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Attitude Is Everything in Old Age

A sunny outlook trumps physical health in keeping folks independent, study finds

MONDAY, Dec. 19, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Optimism and an ability to "roll with the punches" may be the keys to successful aging, a new study suggests.

The findings appear to contradict the widespread belief that successful aging is solely dependent on physical condition and health.

"The medical community has not reached consensus on what constitutes successful aging," lead researcher Dr. Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"The commonly used criteria suggest that a person is aging well if they have a low level of disease and disability. However, this study shows that self-perception about aging can be more important than the traditional success markers," he said.

The 500 study participants were between 60 to 98 years of age and lived independently, outside of any nursing home or assisted living center. Each of them were asked to rate their personal degree of successful aging on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most successful. Their average rating was 8.4.

According to the researchers, the majority of respondents who gave themselves a high rating would not meet the criteria for successful aging as assessed by traditional physical health measures, such as the absence of disease or disability.

"People who think they are aging well are not necessarily the most healthy individuals," Jeste said. "In fact, optimism and effective coping styles were found to be more important to aging successfully than traditional measures of health and wellness. These findings suggest that physical health is not the best indicator of successful aging -- attitude is."

Levels of social and community involvement were also found to be strong indicators of successful aging, he added.

The study was released this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about healthy aging.

SOURCE: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, news release, Dec. 12, 2005
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