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Positive outlook may hold key to healthy aging

June 21, 2012

When it comes to healthy aging, having a positive attitude may be more important than one might assume. Recent research from the University of Exeter found adults who viewed themselves as older were considerably more likely to meet the criteria for dementia than those who felt more youthful.

The study focused on 68 people between 60 and 70 who were told they were either older or younger than the other participants. In other words, those primed to feel older were told the participants were between 40 and 70, while those who were meant to feel younger were told the other subjects were between 60 and 90.

After reading one of two articles on aging, the subjects underwent a number of clinical tests, including one that screened for dementia. Interestingly, 70 percent of the participants in the group meant to perceive themselves as older met the standards for dementia. Only 14 percent of the other group did the same.

"Our research shows that the effect of age perceptions on performance can be dramatic, and that seeing oneself as 'older' significantly increases a person's risk of being diagnosed with dementia on such tests," said lead author Dr. Catherine Haslam.

The results are just the latest findings that suggest having a positive outlook may be part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. One study published in the journal Aging found having a positive attitude and sense of humor, combined with certain genes, could be the key to healthy aging.

The research looked at 243 people between the ages of 95 and 107, and scientists found the subjects had several things in common. Specifically, Dr. Nil Barzilai told ABC News that they tended to be more optimistic, easy going and less neurotic than others.