Frail or sturdy? Seniors decide what they want to be

Share this article:
James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
If you're like me, you're a big believer in the saying “Attitude determines altitude.” If you're in the eldercare business, this should become embedded in your mind — for the good of those on your watch.

An awful lot of research crosses my desk on any given day. That's why when something sticks in the mind for more than a few weeks, it's safe to say it's remarkable. That is how I characterize the work of Becca Levy, which I first became aware of shortly before Christmas.

An associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University, Levy has worked for several decades studying how seniors' attitudes affect their ability to deal with disabilities. Her most recent update appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In brief, she's found that people who subscribe to negative aging stereotypes (“the older you get, the more helpless or useless you'll be,” etc.), are more likely they are to suffer memory loss, poor physical function and even early death.

On the other hand, when seniors view themselves as being more likely to have wisdom, self-realization and general satisfaction in old age, they are essentially more liable to “will” themselves healthy.

In fact, a positive bias makes seniors 44% more likely to fully recover from some disabling condition, Levy and colleagues found. She also reported in 2002 that individuals with positive age stereotypes lived 7.5 years longer than those without them.

Researchers and reviewers agree that more study is needed. But they openly express confidence that a cause-and-effect dynamic exists.

Positive aging stereotypes are associated with individuals eating better, exercising more, following up with physicians better and stopping smoking more often. Seniors also feel a better sense of control and self-efficacy when they bring positive biases to the table.

How does this pertain to you, the senior caregiver? It's simple: Realize how profoundly you can affect your residents' outlook on aging, and, therefore, their lives in general. Help them build self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.

Be cautious with the tone of voice you use around them, and maintain a positive attitude about aging in general. Give your residents your full attention and work hard to avoid using loaded expressions and phrases that cast aging in a negative light.

And then when you go home, keep up the positive attitude. Psychologists note that impressions of aging and the aging condition are formed very strongly early on.

Today's child who wrinkles her nose at the thought of, well, getting wrinkles, slowing down or becoming less useful in old age could be creating a path to unnecessary disability, or worse.

Share this article:

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

    ALL MCKNIGHT'S BLOGS

    More in Daily Editors' Notes

    Guess who's asking whether to discontinue skilled care?

    Guess who's asking whether to discontinue skilled care?

    The audience member had a question that in previous years would have been found at the corner of Blasphemy and Crazytalk. She wanted to know whether it would be advisable ...

    Managing time for staff to reflect after a resident's death

    Managing time for staff to reflect after a ...

    Singing "Amazing Grace" or playing a ukelele version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" may not immediately spring to mind as ways to help staff members grieve after a resident has ...

    Glen Campbell Alzheimer's documentary brings out the stars — caregivers and celebrities ...

    As readers of this blog may recall, my expectations for the special screening of the new documentary about music superstar Glen Campbell's journey with Alzheimer's disease were high. Sunday night's star-studded showing and concert were to be unlike anything long-term care professionals had experienced before. ...