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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Positive Attitudes Help Seniors Recover From Disabilities: 12/17/2012

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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Seniors are more likely to recover from a disability if they have a positive attitude about aging, suggests a pioneering study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In a study of about 600 seniors conducted at Yale University, a rigorous measure of full recovery after the onset of a severe disability was almost eight percent higher among older adults with a positive attitude about aging — compared to peers with a more negative outlook. A rigorous measure of full recovery from a severe to a mild disability also was significantly higher among older adults with a positive attitude about aging.

Full recovery was determined by a person’s renewed ability to bathe, dress, walk, and feed himself/herself.

Regarding one of the study’s other measures (the likelihood of recovery), the authors write (and we quote): ‘older persons with positive age stereotypes were 44 percent more likely to fully recover from severe disability than those with negative age stereotypes’ (end of quote).

The study’s participants enrolled at age 70 or higher and were patients in a health plan within the New Haven, CT. area. The study’s participants had no prior disabilities and were recruited from March 1998 to December 2008. All participants were interviewed monthly for as long as 10+ years and completed other home-based health assessments.

Although other demographic variables such as age, gender, race, education and depression were assessed, the study’s four authors found how participants answered a straightforward question (‘When you think of old persons, what are the first five words or phrases that come to mind’) best predicted full recovery or a reduction of disabilities from severe to mild.

The authors noted a dearth of prior research why seniors do — or do not — recover from disabilities prompted the current study. Dr. Becca Levy, the lead author and associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at the Yale University School of Public Health told HealthNewsDigest (and we quote): ‘this result suggests that how the old view their aging process could have an effect on how they experience it’ (end of quote).’s seniors’ health health topic page provides an overview of aging in the ‘overviews’ section, which includes tips to encourage positive attitudes about aging (provided by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research). Some tips to help seniors cope with and overcome depression (provided by the American Academy of Family Physicians) is available within the ‘specific conditions’ section of’s seniors’ health health topic page.

A good overview of the key indicators of well-being for seniors is provided in the ‘statistics’ section of’s seniors’ health health topic page.’s seniors’ health health topic page also contains links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to related clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. From the seniors’ health health topic page, you can sign up to receive email updates with links to new information as it becomes available on MedlinePlus.

We also recommend an article called “Senior Living: Staying Positive and Moving Forward” that is accessible in the ‘MedlinePlus Magazine’ section of’s seniors’ health health topic page. In addition, NIH has a devoted website to enhance senior health (called NIH SeniorHealth) that can be found in the ‘start here’ section of’s seniors’ health health topic page.

To find’s seniors’ health health topic page, type ‘senior health’ in the search box at the top of’s home page.

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