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Think Yourself Young

Do you believe that your brain function declines over the years? If you do, you are unconsciously affecting how your mind ages. Our attitudes and beliefs about aging have a major influence on how fast we age, and how we age.

A 2002 Yale study of over-50 year olds showed that those with a positive perception of aging lived on average more than seven years longer than those with a negative perception. It also found that being exposed to others’ negative perceptions of aging increases stress levels in older people. Words expressing age stereotypes such as ‘fragile’, ‘feeble’, ‘forgetful’, and treating older people that way can actually result in higher stress, poor memory, poor balance and a shorter life.

Negative perceptions about aging often emerge in the way we talk to and about the elderly, including using words like ‘dear’, ‘dearie’ or ‘sweetie’ in the same tone that we speak to a child, and talking about the person as though they weren’t there. According to researchers at the University of Kansas, this can lead to lower confidence and self-esteem, depression, decreased independence, and withdrawal in older people.

An aging or even a frail body does not necessarily imply mental decline. In fact, cognition often improves with age as we learn to use our brains more efficiently, and become more reflective and less distracted by ego, and research shows that we actually do become wiser.

The ancient Greek dramatist Sophocles wrote his most famous play, Oedipus Coloneus, in extreme old age. Plato was still writing philosophy in his eighties, and in his 94th year Isocrates wrote a treatise on literature that is still studied today. Many of today’s greatest minds are also well into their 70’s and 80’s.

So keep that brain active, and if anyone tells you to act your age, tell them to get lost!

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