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Perceptions of Aging Have Health Consequences

Posted Jan 22 2009 6:45pm

I have been citing a Yale study in my Meaning of Life keynote that states that people with positive perceptions of aging on average live 7.5 years longer. In the New York Times today, some of that study has been cited in anticipation of a follow up study being done.

Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at YaleUniversity studies the health effects of such negative messages on elderly people such as when people call them "sweetie" or "dear".

“Those little insults can lead to more negative images of aging,” Dr. Levy said. “And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival.”

In her forthcoming study, Dr. Levy found that older people exposed to negative images of aging, including words like “forgetful,” “feeble” and “shaky,” performed significantly worse on memory and balance tests; in previous experiments, they also showed higher levels of stress.

The worst offenders are often health care workers, said Kristine Williams, a nurse gerontologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing.

I talk a lot about examining the total health care experience, before, during and after hospialization; the experience of living in an assisted living or nursing facility, etc. One of the pieces of the experience that needs to be examined are the conversations among caregivers to patients or residents. Their words can boost someone up or bring someone down. And that has real, proven health consequences.

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