Growing Older and Feeling Better

Growing older may not be as bad as you think.  A recent study found that despite the physical and mental toll of time, people actually feel better as they age, not worse.

As part of the UCSD and Stanford University Successful Aging Evaluation Study (SAGE), researchers asked more than 1,000 people aged 50 to 99 to rank how well they were aging on a scale of 1 to 10.  The mean score was 8.2 and was even higher for those in their 90s.

That’s despite the often-inevitable declines in physical and mental abilities that come with age.  Study participants were divided into groups by decade from those in their 50s to those in their 90s. People in the older age groups scored progressively worse on measures of health and cognitive function, even as they scored higher on their own ratings of successful aging.

The results were not at all what researchers were expecting.  Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a UCSD professor of psychiatry and president of the American Psychiatric Association described the findings as “eye-popping.”

“We were astounded by how physical disability and self-rated successful aging went in diametrically opposite directions with aging,” Jeste told news sources.

The results also suggest that the more resilient people are, including their ability to cope with stress, the better they aged. Conversely, people who reported higher levels of depression were less likely to say they were aging well.  “Increasing resilience and reducing depression might have effects on successful aging as strong as that of reducing physical disability,” the study authors wrote.

Researchers found that participants in their 50s who were asked how well they were aging posted a mean score of 7.7 on the 10-point scale, and 49 points on a 100-point scale of physical function.  Those in their 90s, however, rated themselves at 8.6 for aging successfully, even though their mean score was only 37.3 for physical ability. The results were similar for cognitive function.

So, cheer up.  Growing old may not be so bad.  Perhaps age brings certain wisdom with it.  Older generations have already conquered the most contentious aspects of life (relationships, jobs, childrearing) and have come to some sort of resolution.  Maybe they are focused more in the here and now and regret is a thing of the past.  Whatever it is, we should all be hopeful that older we get, the better we’ll feel.