Social & environmental factors play important role in how people age, two studies find

September 12, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Why do some older people experience a rapid decline in their physical and functional health while some of their peers remain healthy and active? While your genes and overall physical health play a role, new research shows how psychosocial factors can also play an important role. Two studies report on this in the September issue of Psychology and Aging, a journal published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

In the first study, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found a link between positive emotions and the onset of frailty in 1,558 initially non-frail older Mexican Americans living in five southwestern states - Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. This was the first study to examine frailty and the protective role of positive emotions in the largest minority population in the United States.

Study authors Glenn Ostir, Ph.D., Kenneth Ottenbacher, Ph.D., and Kyriakos Markides, Ph.D., followed the participants for seven years and assessed frailty by measuring the participants' weight loss, exhaustion, walking speed and grip strength. Positive affect (positive emotions) was measured during the study period by asking the participants how often in the last week "I felt that I was just as good as other people," "I felt hopeful about the future," "I was happy," and "I enjoyed life."

The overall incidence of frailty increased almost eight percent during the seven-year follow-up period, but those who scored high on positive affect were significantly less likely to become frail. Each unit increase in baseline positive affect score was associated with a three percent decreased risk of frailty after adjusting for relevant risk factors.

The precise reason for this happening was beyond the scope of the current study, but the researchers speculate that positive emotions may directly affect health via chemical and neural responses involved in maintaining homeostatic balance. Or a more indirect process may be at work, according to the authors, with positive emotions affecting health by increasing a person's intellectual, physical, psychological and social resources.

In the second study, researchers Thomas Hess, Ph.D., Joey Hinson, M.A., and Jill Statham, B.A., from North Carolina State University investigated how negative stereotypes about aging influences older adults' memory. Their study involved 193 participants and two experiments, each with a younger (17 - 35 years old) and older (57 - 82 years old) group of adults. Participants were exposed to stereotype-related words in the context of another task (scrambled sentence, word judgment) in order to prime positive and negative stereotypes of aging. This involved either words reflecting negative stereotypes about aging (brittle, complaining, confused, cranky, feeble, forgot, senile, etc.) or words reflecting positive views of aging (accomplished, active, alert, dignified, distinguished, knowledgeable, successful, etc.)

Results show memory performance in older adults was lower when they were primed with negative stereotypes than when they were primed with positive stereotypes. In addition, age differences in memory between young and older adults were significantly reduced following a positive stereotype prime, with young and older adults performing at almost identical levels in some situations.

The study also provides evidence that older adults can control the effect of negative stereotype activation but only when the primes are relatively subtle. In contrast, when the stereotype primes are relatively blatant, memory performance tends to be negatively affected.

The results of this study add to a growing list of findings that implicate the importance of the social environment in how it affects older peoples' memory performance, according to the authors. If older people are treated like they are competent, productive members of society, then they perform that way too.
-end-
Full text of both articles is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/pag/press_releases/september_2004/pag193.html

First Article: "Onset of Frailty in Older Adults and the Protective Role of Positive Affect," Glenn V. Ostir, Kenneth J. Ottenbacher and Kyriakos S. Markides, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; Psychology and Aging, Vol. 19, No. 3.

Lead author Glenn Ostir, Ph.D., can be reached at gostir@utmb.edu or at 409-747-1933.

Second Article: "Explicit and Implicit Stereotype Activation Effects on Memory: Do Age and Awareness Moderate the Impact of Priming?" Thomas M. Hess, Joey T. Hinson and Jill A. Statham, North Carolina State University; Psychology and Aging, Vol. 19, No. 3.

Lead author Thomas Hess, Ph.D., can be reached at Thomas_hess@ncsu.edu or at 919-515-1729.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

American Psychological Association

Related Memory Articles from Brightsurf:

Memory of the Venus flytrap
In a study to be published in Nature Plants, a graduate student Mr.

Memory protein
When UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Omar Saleh and graduate student Ian Morgan sought to understand the mechanical behaviors of disordered proteins in the lab, they expected that after being stretched, one particular model protein would snap back instantaneously, like a rubber band.

Previously claimed memory boosting font 'Sans Forgetica' does not actually boost memory
It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people's memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.

VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.

The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.

How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.

A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.

Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.

Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.

Read More: Memory News and Memory Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.