Senior Health: Older is Better Emotionally

Aug 15th, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

A medical report from Australia recently revealed information contrary to what most of us have come to believe about aging… in fact, our emotional stability improves as we age; we get mellower!

The Journal of  Neuroscience published the results of a study in the Westmead Milennium Institute, New South Wales, Australia.  The researchers studied 142 people, ages 12-79.  They all met the criteria if good health and no past history of mental illness.  They completed a questionnaire that assessed emotional stability.  Then, they all had MRIs to look at each one’s brain activity while they reviewed pictures of facial expressions. 

These MRI studies revealed the older people’s emotional reactions were mostly influenced by that part of the brain that controls conscious thought.  Their responses were more reflective of intention (coming from age and experience) than emotional response.

But the MRIs of the younger people revealed their emotional reactions were controlled by the part of the brain that is reactive—as in the flight/fight response.  Younger people were more emotionally reactive than their elder counterparts. 

These results suggest older people living within definitions of a ‘normal’ life actually may learn from their accumulated life experiences and, as they age, react more with conscious thought and intention than their younger counterparts.  Memory function may decline with age, but emotional stability actually increases.

The importance of this study for us senior citizens is that persistently negative moods are not consistent with normal aging, and when that happens with those aging friends and family members whom we love, we need to be aware they may need medical or psychological help.  Most normally aging seniors do so with calm and equanimity.



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