A new study suggests that a person’s mental health seems to improve with age. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry observed more than a 1000 senior adults to be more content with their lives, compared to individuals in the 20s and 30s, even though they suffered from physical ailments.
According to the senior author of the study, Dilip V. Jester, MD, a distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and the director of the Center on Healthy Aging at the University of California, San Diego, “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. 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.”
Cross-sectional data of 1546 individuals (aged 21 to 99) from the San Diego County was analyzed in the current study. The researchers observed trends in cognitive, physical, and mental health over the adult lifespan from the collected data.
Random digital dialing was used for sampling purposes. It was a structured multicohort investigation which included in-home surveys and telephone interviews of adults who had not been diagnosed with dementia. Dr. Jeste explained that the current sampling methods was selected in order to avoid any sort of bias that might come with asking people to volunteer for an age related study. Due to it being a cross-sectional study, all of the individuals were examined at one point in time.
Sixty-six was the mean age of the participants and 51% from the total were men. Around 60% of the individuals had a Bachelor’s degree while 12 years or less of education had been completed by 20%. A total of 21% of the participants were postgraduates. A total of 14% individuals were Hispanic/Latino. 7% were Asian-American, 1% African American, 2% belonged to other racial and ethnic backgrounds while the rest identified as non-Latino Caucasian.
The results of the study showed that while cognitive and physical functioning declined with the increase in age, the overall mental health improved steadily. The mental health scores on the Happiness Subscale, reverse-coded Anxiety Scale, and the Depression Scale showed significant improvement with age.
“Overall, our findings support the existence of a ‘paradox’ in which aging is associated with better mental health despite loss of physical and cognitive function,” added Dr. Jeste. “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.”
The results showed that high levels of stress, along with depressive and anxiety symptoms, were exhibited in individuals who were in their 20s and 30s. Dr. Jeste also noted that an increase in age showed an increase in wisdom as well. As individuals grow older they learn not to worry about things they might have worried about when they were young. Numerous studies also show older individuals to have more skills related to emotional regulation and social decision making. Older individuals also store comparatively few negative memories and emotions, and according to Dr. Jeste that might be one of the reasons they are more content.
Dr. Brent P. Forester, director of Geriatric Mood Disorders Program at McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts, also shared his opinion. He said that there is a misconception about aging and people relate it to social isolation, physical disabilities, and cognitive decline. However, studies have proven that with increased age comes increased wisdom and resilience.