Age Can be a Good Thing for Mental Health

While many people report aging as something they hope to avoid as long as possible, most have come to terms with the reality it is inevitable. The good news, according to researchers speaking at the American Psychological Association meeting, aging can be a good thing when it comes to mental health.

A recent USA Today piece highlighted the presentations of two different California researchers – in separate presentations – in which both have shown mental health improves with age. Most people tend to get happier as they get older. At the same time, those who are older have more control over their emotions and are less negative.

Susan Turk Charles of the University of California, Irvine, found mental health and emotional happiness generally improve with age. The only exception was for those with dementia-related diseases. Her research also found older people to have greater emotional control and will limit negative or stressful situations.

Charles did highlight that there are exceptions when adults must cope with prolonged, stressful situations as they can take a psychological and physical toll. As a result, age-related benefits will disappear due to chronic stressors.

Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity at Stanford University, presented her own research, which found that social relationships, especially quality relationships, can influence the way the brain processes information.

In a study of more than 1,000 Swedes, none of which had signs of dementia before the study, those with a strong social network were 60 percent less likely to develop symptoms of cognitive impairment than those without such social ties.

Carstensen also notes that a growing body of research suggests education may play a role in longevity. “Independent studies agree that even one additional year of education very likely increases life expectancy by more than a year,” she says.

There is still hope.

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