Seeing things from an older person’s perspective

Interesting and unexpected findings from a cardiovascular researcher at the University of Kentucky, on the seemingly unrelated subject of how people suffering from heart failure assess their quality of life….as reported by Paula Span in the NY TImes.

In this study, patients in the older groups, age 63 to 70 and over 70, reported better quality of life and significantly less depression and anxiety, even though older patients with heart failure are likely to be sicker and more impaired.

What?

The apparent reason that people who could do less still felt they had better quality of life, Ms. Moser said, is that “older people are better able to reframe their lives.”

The older people compared themselves not with their former selves, but with the peers they saw around them; they felt grateful to be alive and able to do whatever they could do. “It could be worse” was a common theme.

Researchers have long talked about the U-shaped curve in which people say they are happiest in youth and in old age. We know that older people see things more positively, and it often pays off.

So when adult children talk about elderly parents’ resistance to accepting assistance or permitting change, even in circumstances their caregivers see as crucial to their safety and well-being, we put it down to fear of dependence or denial of reality, and those factors frequently do come into play.

But the older heart failure patients weren’t in denial. They acknowledged their physical and social limitations; they just didn’t seem as bothered by them.

Maybe she’s not fearful of admitting decline, as we sometimes think, or unable to see the risk she is taking. Maybe she just thinks about it differently.

The child compares her mother with her younger, stronger and more capable self and wants to take action because at some point the older woman’s kind of thinking can become dangerous. And perhaps the mother compares herself with more debilitated peers and tells herself it could be worse — which is also true.

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