A new longitudinal study investigating whether a person’s level of happiness affects their cognitive health as they age strongly suggests that the happier you are, the less likely you are of developing neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
While there have been previous studies that link positive psychology with improved cognitive functions, these studies were limited because they only tracked the participants for a short time, and therefore didn’t allow researchers to explore the association between psychological well-being and cognitive change on a deeper level.
The data was extracted from a subset of the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey, which included the responses of almost 9,500 participants aged 60 and up without any cognitive impairments at the beginning of the study (2002). The participants were then interviewed five times between 2002 and 2014.
The interviewers observed that around 2,640 participants experienced an onset of cognitive impairment at one of the follow-up interviews, and the numbers slightly increased over time. During the 2002 to 2005 interval, only 11 percent of the participants showed signs of cognitive impairment, which went up to 13.3 percent during the 2011 to 2014 interval.
The participants answered questions about their optimism, conscientiousness, loneliness, self-esteem, and other factors, as well as providing information on the kind of social support they received, their health status, and visits from family and friends. Positive responses to these social factors were associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.
According to Lydia Li, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan and the study’s co-author, for an aging society such as ours, gaining a further understanding of cognitive impairment should be a crucial topic in public health.
“The findings have implications for policy and practice regarding supporting older people to preserve cognitive function in older age, given that psychological well-being is modifiable,” she explains.
Improving psychological well-being in the elderly will not only enhance their overall quality of life but will likely lessen their health expenses associated with cognitive impairment.
If you’d like to support the health and happiness of an elderly loved one in your life, consider helping them become an Emissary at TheOptimistDaily.com for their daily dose of uplifting optimism.
Source study: Journal of Aging and Health—Psychological well-being and cognitive function among older adults in China