Happiness Equals Good Cognitive Health In Seniors

Julia Little  |  March 8, 2013

Many people seek out happiness for its own sake, but new research shows that maintaining a good mood and outlook on life can also enhance cognitive function in older adults. The study, out of Ohio University, found that seniors can improve their working memory and decision-making skills by boosting their moods. The study may offer ways for seniors to overcome some of the cognitive decline that has, until now, been considered an unavoidable side effect of aging.

Ellen Peters, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at the university, said previous research has shown that younger adults express more creativity and cognitive flexibility when they are in a good mood. She noted that she and her colleagues were not sure the same results would be true of seniors because of the cognitive declines associated with the aging brain. However, the results show that happiness can benefit a senior's thinking skills, perhaps improving his or her ability to make decisions regarding senior living and a healthy, safe lifestyle.

"Working memory is important in decision making," Peters said. "If you're working your way through different options, how much you can remember of each option - and can therefore compare and contrast in your head - has a big impact on how well you can make a decision."

Although mood did not affect other aspects of cognitive ability, such as vocabulary or speed of processing information, this study offers promising findings for those providing elder care. Focusing on happiness and mood could improve the quality of life for seniors more than previously thought. Oftentimes, happiness is a factor in choosing senior living communities. With planned programming, activities and outings, many seniors find their happiness - and health - flourishes in these settings.

Isolation is another risk factor that has been found to negatively impact senior health and well-being. However, a 2011 Gallup poll  found that the more time seniors spend with family and friends, the more likely they are to report enjoyment and happiness in their lives, and the less likely they are to say they are significantly stressed and worried. The Ohio University study proves that this happiness goes beyond a pleasant demeanor - its cognitive benefits affect many aspects of life.

With the numerous social opportunities offered in a retirement or assisted living community, many seniors find themselves more socially fulfilled and happy than they were living in their homes. 

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