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Lonely Older Adults Can Reduce Health Risk by Staying Positive: Study

Update Date: Oct 26, 2012 09:21 AM EDT

Quite a few studies conducted before have shown that elderly people who are lonely, are more prone to developing health problems. However, a new study from Concordia University has shown that older adults who approach life with a positive outlook can reverse the negative health issues associated with a lonely life.

The study has been conducted by researcher Carsten Wrosch, a professor at Concordia's Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development.

"Our aim was to see whether using self-protective strategies, such as thinking positively and avoiding self-blame in the context of common age-related threats could prevent lonely older adults from exhibiting increases in stress hormones and inflammatory biomarkers," explains Wrosch, who co-authored the article with Concordia's PhD graduate Rebecca Rueggeberg, and colleagues Gregory Miller from the University of British Columbia and Thomas McDade from Northwestern University in Illinois.

For the study, the researchers observed and followed 122 senior citizens for a duration of six years and estimated their self-protective strategies by asking them to answer a questionnaire in which participants were asked to rate statements such as, "Even if my health is in very difficult condition, I can find something positive in life," or "When I find it impossible to overcome a health problem, I try not to blame myself," Medical Xpress reported.

The researchers also tried understanding to what extent the seniors felt lonely, by asking participants how they felt or how isolated they felt during a typical day.

The researchers also tested the blood and saliva samples of participants to measure how much cortisol and C-reactive protein (CRP) the participants produced, which is a marker of stress-related changes in the body.

Increased CRP would mean an increased risk of inflammatory illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease in people.

The findings of the study revealed that positive thinking helped lonely elders to be protected against an increase in cortisol secretion. Also, four years later, tests revealed that the CRP levels in the participants had come down further, which meant that if older people do not blame themselves for their negative health issues and if they stay positive, they can decrease health threats associated with stress and inflammation.

Older adults who did not report feelings of loneliness, apparently had no effect with this kind of thinking, possibly because their social networks may be already working well to help them deal with aging.

In conclusion, the findings reveal that positive thinking is pretty much the key to successful aging.

"It's my hope that our research may improve clinical treatment of lonely older adults," says Wrosch. "Older adults can be taught through counseling or therapy to engage in self-protective thoughts like staying positive when it comes to their own health. That means a better quality of life, both physically and mentally - something we all want at any age."

The article will soon be published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

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