As adults grow older and lonelier, they are at a greater risk for health problems. However, older adults who can tackle life with a positive outlook can change their negative health issues, which are linked to a lonely life, according to a new article published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

An earlier study done in the UK has established that aging seniors who enjoy life more and are not socially isolated will live longer. Those surrounded by families, partners, and positive events such as hobbies were seen to have a long life.

Co-author of this particular study, Carsten Wrosch, a professor in Concordia’s Department of Psychology, member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, says:

“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.”

Wrosch and his team tracked 122 senior citizens over a six-year period. They used a questionnaire to determine self-protective strategies. The seniors 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.” Researchers also measured loneliness by asking participants how often they felt isolated or lonely during a regular day.

The investigators took saliva and blood samples to examine how much cortisol and C-reactive protein (CRP) the participants manufacture. These biological factors were chosen because cortisol controls stress-induced changes in the body, while people with high CRP have a greater risk of inflammatory illnesses such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Their results showed that among lonely older adults, positive thinking could help protect against a rise in cortisol secretion. After four years, more testing showed the seniors’ CRP levels had gotten better.

Therefore, lonely, older adults who adapt and think of negative health circumstances positively, and do not blame themselves for their health issues, can lower health risks linked with stress and inflammation.

For participants that did not report feelings of loneliness, the positive outlook had no effect, possibly because their social networks may aide them in dealing with their age-related problems.

These results may be able to help with successful aging.

Wrosch concludes:

“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.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald