The Joys of Aging

Yippee Skippee! Proverbs 31:25 “She laughs at what is to come!”

Aging Is Associated With Better Mental Health by Fran Lowry August 25, 2016 Medscape News

Like good wine and cheese, one’s mental health improves with age, new research suggests.
In a study of more than 1000 adults, people in their senior years were found to be happier and more content with their lives than those in their 20s and 30s, despite their physical ailments. The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“Most people think that old age is all doom and gloom and that everything goes down, that physical health declines and the brain deteriorates and the people are depressed,” senior author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at the University of California, San Diego, told Medscape Medical News.
“In reality, that is not the case. It does not apply to everybody, and in our study of aging adults, their improved sense of psychological well-being was linear and substantial. Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade,” Dr Jeste said.
In the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) study, the mean age of the participants was 66 years and 51% were men. 60% of the sample had a Bachelor’s degree, 20% completed 12 years or less of education, and 21% had a postgraduate education.
The analyses showed that although physical and cognitive function worsened with age, mental health steadily improved. Mental health scores on the Happiness Subscale significantly improved with age and anxiety and depression decreased significantly.
“In all of the things we looked at, their level of well-being, happiness, satisfaction with life, and also depression, anxiety, and perceived stress, in all six of these things, there was an improvement in mental health. It was the people in their 20s and 30s who had the most stress and the highest level of depressive and anxiety symptoms,” he said.
“We see that the 20s and 30s are a period when you have lots of choices, but also worries about making the right decisions and fears of making the wrong decisions. But as you get older, you can look back and say, hey, I did okay. I think that stresses on younger people are much greater today than they were years ago. Their lives are much more stressful now,” Dr Jeste said.
Older people also tend to become wiser with age, he noted. “They learn not to sweat the little things, and a lot of previously big things become little. Also, a number of studies have shown that older individuals tend to be more skilled at emotional regulation and complex social decision-making. They also experience and retain fewer negative emotions and memories,” he said.
“I think one of the misconceptions that people have is that normal aging is associated with disability, loneliness, social isolation, and functional and cognitive decline,” said Brent P. Forester, MD, director of the Geriatric Mood Disorders Program at McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts, when asked by Medscape Medical News to comment on the study.
“What this and other studies have shown is that there is a fair amount of resilience and wisdom in older adults, and those two key characteristics are highlighted in this study. These allow older adults to handle adversity better and function well despite perhaps having disabilities that would be impairing to others without those characteristics,” Dr Forester said.
“There is a common bias about aging, which we call ageism, where people project their own feelings about what it might be like to be old or what they have experienced in their own families, where the older adults did not do well,” he said. Ageism then creates a mindset against trying to identify or treat problems, such as depression, that are highly treatable in older people, Dr Forester said.
“When we see depression in older adults, it’s usually in the context of medical problems. The more medical comorbidity the person has, the more likely they are to have depression. It’s partly a psychological reaction to being physically sick, but more than that, it’s probably a biological relationship between their medical problems and what’s going on in their brain that is causing them to feel this way,” he said.
“By addressing some of the treatable mental health issues that do occur with aging, including depression and anxiety, we may not only be able to improve mood and functioning related to depression, we may also have a beneficial effect on physical outcomes,” Dr Forester said.
The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego. Dr Jeste and Dr Forester report no relevant financial relationships.