Positive attitude lessens health risks for older adults, study shows

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Seniors who maintain a positive outlook can counteract negative affects of a lonely life, Canadian researchers have found.

The implications are significant since previous studies have established that older adults who are lonely are at greater risk of developing health problems, noted Carsten Wrosch, a professor in Concordia University's Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development. In an upcoming article in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that he co-authored, Wrosch asserts individuals can reverse negative affects.

"Our aim was to see whether using self-protective strategies, such as thinking positively and avoiding self-blame in the context of common age-related threats could prevent lonely older adults from exhibiting increases in stress hormones and inflammatory biomarkers," he explained. They did.

Researchers followed 122 seniors during a six-year period, asking them to gauge whether they remain optimistic and don't “blame myself” in the face of healthcare challenges. Investigators also measured biological markers C-reactive protein (CRP) and cortisol in study subjects' saliva and blood. High CRP levels increase a person's risk of inflammatory diseases such high blood pressure and diabetes, while cortisol is responsible for stress-related changes in the body.

"Older adults can be taught through counseling or therapy to engage in self-protective thoughts like staying positive when it comes to their own health,” Wrosch said. “That means a better quality of life, both physically and mentally – something we all want at any age."