North Carolina State University issued the following news release:

Think Memory Worsens With Age? Then Yours Probably Will

Thinking your memory will get worse as you get older may actually be a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Researchers at North Carolina State University
have found that senior citizens who think older people should perform
poorly on tests of memory actually score much worse than seniors who do
not buy in to negative stereotypes about aging and memory loss.

In a study published earlier this month, psychology professor Dr. Tom
Hess and a team of researchers from NC State show that older adults’
ability to remember suffers when negative stereotypes are “activated” in
a given situation. “For example, older adults will perform more poorly
on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that
particular type of memory test,” Hess says.

Memory also suffers if senior citizens believe they are being
“stigmatized,” meaning that others are looking down on them because of
their age.

“Such situations may be a part of older adults’ everyday experience,”
Hess says, “such as being concerned about what others think of them at
work having a negative effect on their performance – and thus
potentially reinforcing the negative stereotypes.” However, Hess adds,
“The positive flip side of this is that those who do not feel
stigmatized, or those in situations where more positive views of aging
are activated, exhibit significantly higher levels of memory
performance.” In other words, if you are confident that aging will not
ravage your memory, you are more likely to perform well on memory-
related tasks.

The study also found a couple of factors that influenced the extent to
which negative stereotypes influence older adults. For example, the
researchers found that adults between the ages of 60 and 70 suffered
more when these negative stereotypes were activated than seniors who
were between the ages of 71 and 82. However, the 71-82 age group
performed worse when they felt stigmatized.

Finally, the study found that negative effects were strongest for those
older adults with the highest levels of education. “We interpret this as
being consistent with the idea that those who value their ability to
remember things most are the most likely to be sensitive to the negative
implications of stereotypes, and thus are most likely to exhibit the
problems associated with the stereotype.”

“The take-home message,” Hess says, “is that social factors may have a
negative effect on older adults’ memory performance.”

[end news release]

Here’s a link to the abstract of the study:

Courtesy of Ken Pope

by Kohl, Herbert R. 2007.

As the title says, an aging man, educator and overachieving social activist learns how to learn in a painting class alongside 5 and 6 year-olds. Along the way he learns something about painting in the classical Chinese style, but he also gets to have a proper childhood finally, gains access to grounding in meditative painting, learns something about reconciling life’s contradictions, begins to come to terms with aging, and discovers how to get the goal out of the way in order to master the art of being present in the world.  I liked it.

Boston University issued the following news release:

Researchers identify personality traits

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine’s (BUSM) New
England Centenarian Study have noted specific personality traits
associated with healthy aging and longevity amongst the children of
centenarians. The work was conducted in collaboration with scientists
from the National Institute on Aging. These findings currently appear on-
line in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Previous research on siblings and offspring of centenarians have
documented that exceptional longevity runs strongly in families. Studies
of the offspring of centenarians showed that their mortality is 120
percent lower than other members of their birth cohort and that they
also have markedly lower prevalence rates and delayed onsets of
cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. Because
personality traits have been shown to have substantial heritable
components, the researchers hypothesized that certain personality
features may be important to the healthy aging observed in the offspring
of centenarians.

Using the NEO-Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) questionnaire, measures of
the personality traits for neuroticism, extraversion, openness,
agreeableness, and conscientiousness were obtained from 246 (125 women
and 121 men) unrelated offspring of centenarians with an average age of 75.

Both the male and female offspring of centenarians scored in the low
range of published norms for neuroticism and in the high range for
extraversion. The women also scored comparatively high in agreeableness.
Otherwise, both sexes scored within normal range for conscientiousness
and openness, and the men scored within normal range for agreeableness.

According to the researchers, personality traits in the offspring of
centenarians appear to have distinctive characteristics that may have
important implications for their longevity. “Interestingly, whereas men
and women generally differ substantially in their personality
characteristics, the male and female offspring tended to be similar,
which speaks to the importance of these traits, irrespective of gender,
for health aging and longevity.

It’s likely that the low neuroticism and higher extraversion will confer
health benefits for these subjects,” said senior author Thomas Perls,
MD, MPH, director of the New England Centenarian Study. “For example,
people who are lower in neuroticism are able to manage or regulate
stressful situations more effectively than those with higher neuroticism
levels. Similarly, high extraversion levels have been associated with
establishing friendships and looking after yourself,” he said.

Perl’s added, “These findings suggest that personality is an important
characteristic to include in studies that assess genetic and
environmental determinants of longevity. Such studies are currently underway.”

This study was supported in part by grants from the National Institute
on Aging (NIA): K-24, AG025727 (TP), K23 AG026754 (Paul Beeson Physician
Faculty Scholar in Aging Award, DT), and the Intramural Research Program
of the NIA.


Of course, this makes one wonder how much we can either a) modify extraversion and neuroticism, or b) find other ways to get the benefits that these traits bring us. Maybe introverts can further develop close and abiding friendships and the joy and fun that comes with these whether you are extravert or not. And people who are prone to anxiety and distress (neuroticism) can learn to find their center?    BG

BBC News released an article: “Long hours link to dementia risk.”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Long working hours may raise the risk of mental decline and possibly
dementia, research suggests.

The Finnish-led study was based on analysis of 2,214 middle-aged British
civil servants.

It found that those working more than 55 hours a week had poorer mental
skills than those who worked a standard working week.

The American Journal of Epidemiology study found hard workers had
problems with short-term memory and word recall.


However, the researchers say key factors could include increased
sleeping problems, depression, an unhealthy lifestyle and a raised risk
of cardiovascular disease, possibly linked to stress.

The civil servants who took part in the study took five different tests
of their mental function, once between 1997 and 1999, and again between
2002 and 2004.


The effects were cumulative, the longer the working week was the worse
the test results were.


Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in workplace stress at the University
of Lancaster, said it had been long established that consistently
working long hours was bad for general health, and now this study
suggested it was also bad for mental functioning.


Harriet Millward, deputy chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research
Trust, said: “This study should give pause for thought to workaholics.

“We already know that dementia risk can be reduced by maintaining a
balanced diet, regular social interactions and exercising both our
bodies and minds. Perhaps work-life balance should be accounted for too.”

[end excerpts]

The article is online at:

Courtesy of Ken Pope

Engaging in a hobby like reading a book, making a patchwork quilt or even playing computer games can delay the onset of dementia, a US study suggests.

Watching TV however does not count – and indeed spending significant periods of time in front of the box may speed up memory loss, researchers found.

Nearly 200 people aged 70 to 89 with mild memory problems were compared with a group who had no impairment.

The findings are to be presented to an American Academy of Neurology meeting.

The researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota asked the volunteers about their daily activities within the past year and how mentally active they had been between the age of 50 to 65.
One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia
Alzheimer’s Society

Those who had during middle age been busy reading, playing games or engaging in craft hobbies like patchworking or knitting were found to have a 40% reduced risk of memory impairment.

In later life, those same activities reduced the risk by between 30 and 50%.

Those who watched TV for less than 7 hours a day were also 50% less likely to develop memory loss than those who spent longer than that staring at the screen.

“This study is exciting because it demonstrates that ageing does not need to be a passive process,” said study author and neuroscientist Dr Yonas Geda.

“By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss. Of course, the challenge with this type of research is that we are relying on past memories of the participants, therefore we need to confirm these findings with additional research.”

Sarah Day, head of public health at the Alzheimer’s Society said: “One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia.

“Exercising and challenging your brain – by learning new skills, doing puzzles such as crosswords, and even learning a new language – can be fun.

“However, more research, where people are followed up over time, is needed to understand whether these sorts of activities can reduce the risk of dementia.”

The Association for Psychological Science’s journal *Psychological
Science* has scheduled for publication in a future issue an article:
“Age Stereotypes Held Earlier in Life Predict Cardiovascular Events in
Later Life.”

The authors are Becca R. Levy, Alan B. Zonderman, Martin D. Slade, &
Luigi Ferrucci.

Here’s how the article begins: “When older individuals apply negative
age stereotypes to themselves, they can adversely influence a wide range
of outcomes (Levy, Slade, Kunkel, & Kasl, 2002). These outcomes include
a greater cardiovascular response to stress and worse health behaviors,
such as higher tobacco use (Levy, Hausdorff, Hencke, & Wei, 2000; Levy &
Myers, 2004), both of which have been linked to the risk of
cardiovascular events (Jiang et al., 1996). We consider here for the
first time whether negative stereotypes held earlier in life have
consequences for health in later life. We predicted that younger
individuals who held more negative age stereotypes would have a greater
likelihood of experiencing cardiovascular events up to 38 years later
than individuals with more positive age stereotypes.”

Here’s how the Discussion section starts: “As predicted, among
participants age 49 and under, those who held negative age stereotypes
were significantly more likely to experience a cardiovascular event in
the following 38 years
than those with positive age stereotypes, after
adjusting for a number of relevant variables. A similar effect occurred
in a subgroup of participants under age 40 who experienced
cardiovascular events after turning 60–an interval of more than two decades.”

Here’s how the article ends: “The strength of the association between
negative age stereotypes and risk of cardiovascular events in the final
model is notable. If an individual’s age stereotypes became more
negative by one point, the risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event
would increase by 11%. Conversely, if an individual’s age stereotypes
increased in positivity by two standard deviations on the age-stereotype
scale, this would lead to an 80% reduction in the risk of experiencing a
cardiovascular event.
The study suggests that age stereotypes
internalized earlier in life can have a far-reaching effect on health.
In turn, this finding suggests that programs aimed at reducing the
negative age stereotypes of younger individuals could benefit their
cardiovascular health when they become older individuals.”

The author note provides the following info: Becca R. Levy, Yale School
of Public Health, 60 College St., New Haven, CT 06520-8034, e-mail:

Courtesy of Ken Pope

*Washington Post* 14 July 2008 includes an article: “Older Americans
May Be Happier Than Younger Ones” by Shankar Vedantam.

Here are a few excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Many times in science, research studies point in conflicting
directions. Part of the challenge — and the fun — of watching science
is to try to sort out lines of intersecting evidence hidden amid a
welter of confusing data.

In recent months, however, several studies have produced a stream of
evidence that mostly points in the same direction, and also happens to
overturn one of the most stubborn American stereotypes: the belief that
this is a land whose gifts, charms and joys flow mostly to young people.

The studies show that when you check on how happy people are at various
ages, the elderly generally come out ahead. (more…)