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Seniors' recovery from illness, disability can be aided by positive outlook

December 31, 2012

Seniors at assisted living facilities who are recovering from illness or disability can sometimes face a difficult road to regain their health. There are a variety of factors that go into their chances of a successful recovery, but a new study from a Yale University professor suggests older adults may be able to benefit considerably by maintaining a positive outlook on aging.

The research, published recently in The Journal of the American Medical Association, was focused on the health of nearly 600 adults over 70 who were recovering from illness or disability. Yale professor Becca Levy followed the participants over the course of 10 years, and she noticed a correlation between whether a patient regained normal function and if they maintained an optimistic view of growing older, such as stereotypes of increased wisdom and self-realization.

Aging experts say the findings are encouraging and reflect the anecdotal evidence they have seen on the job. However, geriatrician Dr. Marie Bernard says that despite the good news, it's still important to temper expectations given the small size of the study.

"What we really need to understand is the mechanism," she told The New York Times. "Is it something that is malleable and, if so, could we help people live longer, healthier lives?"

Levy has been analyzing the impact positive views have on healthy aging since the 1990s, according to the Times. In fact, one previous study published in 2002 found seniors with a more optimistic attitude tend to live an average of 7.5 years longer than their less positive peers.

The most recent results strengthen the relationship between mental and physical health. Numerous other studies have found that seniors who experience depression, anxiety and loneliness also tend to have more physical ailments.