Friday, September 02, 2016

Growing Older, Getting Happier

A brief piece from Nicholas Bakalar in the NYTimes summaring the recent paper by Thomas et al. (senior author Dilip Jeste):
Older people tend to be happier than younger people, and their happiness increases with age...Researchers contacted 1,546 people ages 21 to 99 via random telephone calls and found that older age was, not surprisingly, tied to declines in physical and cognitive function. But it was also associated with higher levels of overall satisfaction, happiness and well-being, and lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress. The older the person, the study found, the better his or her mental health tended to be.
The researchers used well-validated scales to assess mental health, although the study relied on self-reports and was a snapshot in time that did not follow an individual through a lifetime. Other studies have found similar results linking advancing age and higher levels of happiness.
The reasons for the effect remain unclear, but the senior author, Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, had some suggestions...“Brain studies show that the amygdala in older people responds less to stressful or negative images than in a younger person,” he said. “We become wise. Peer pressure loses its sting. Better decision-making, more control of emotions, doing things that are not just for yourself, knowing oneself better, being more studious and yet more decisive...“This is good news for young people, too,” he added. “You have something to look forward to.”
Here are the methods and results sections from the abstract:
Methods: Cross-sectional data were obtained from 1,546 individuals aged 21–100 years, selected using random digit dialing for the Successful AGing Evaluation (SAGE) study, a structured multicohort investigation that included telephone interviews and in-home surveys of community-based adults without dementia. Data were collected from 1/26/2010 to 10/07/2011 targeting participants aged 50–100 years and from 6/25/2012 to 7/15/2013 targeting participants aged 21–100 years with an emphasis on adding younger individuals. Data included self-report measures of physical health, measures of both positive and negative attributes of mental health, and a phone interview–based measure of cognition.
Results: Comparison of age cohorts using polynomial regression suggested a possible accelerated deterioration in physical and cognitive functioning, averaging 1.5 to 2 standard deviations over the adult lifespan. In contrast, there appeared to be a linear improvement of about 1 standard deviation in various attributes of mental health over the same life period.

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