Scientists may have finally confirmed the old saying, “happy wife, happy life.” In fact, older people who are married to optimists tend to score better on a number of health metrics, including several that predict Alzheimer’s disease and dementia risk, according to a recent study.

Michigan State University researchers followed nearly 4,500 couples for up to eight years. They found a potential link between being married to an optimistic person and preventing the onset of cognitive decline, which they attributed to a healthier home environment.

For clinicians, the results may highlight the importance of considering an elder’s relationships when assessing cognitive health, the authors said.

An optimistic partner may encourage healthier eating habits or exercising together, for example. And when one partner makes a major lifestyle change, the other partner is more likely to follow suit over time, the researchers claimed. The results also indicated that shared experiences led to richer, more positive memories, potentially contributing to greater well-being. 

“When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life,” said William Chopik, Ph.D., co-author of the study. “You actually do experience a rosier future by living longer and staving off cognitive illnesses.”

Can optimism be learned? Though it is known to have a heritable component, it may indeed be a trainable quality, the researchers added. 

“There are studies that show people have the power to change their personalities, as long as they engage in things that make them change,” Chopik reported. “There’s a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality