Nancy Weinbeck
Nancy Weinbeck

I recently received a book I had ordered from the library, Breaking the Age Code by Becca Levy, PhD. For those of you have read my column, I have referred to Dr. Levy’s research often. She is a professor of public health and psychology at Yale and recently published her book summarizing her decades of research on the impact of ageism on health and longevity.

Well, the hold list was long, and it took a while to get my copy. I barely had time to read it before my hold was up. It’s a terrific read and gives large context to the bits and pieces of research I have drawn from in writing these columns. Her research is so important that it’s worth repeating: The way we think about aging impacts how we age.

A few research snippets are also worth repeating. Longevity: Her 2002 longevity study showed that a positive outlook on aging translated to 7.5 years greater longevity than those with negative outlooks on aging. Heart disease: Study participants’ risks for a cardiovascular event doubled if they internalized negative aging stereotypes. Physical ability: Those with positive beliefs around aging recovered faster than those with negative beliefs. In another study, those who were primed with positive age stereotypes showed greater improvements in physical function. Dementia: Research participants who internalized negative age stereotypes from a younger age showed greater decline in volume in parts of the brain associated with memory. Postmortem studies showed more of the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Unfortunately, our society bombards us with cues that feed our brains negative images and stereotypes of older adults that is difficult to fight, but fight we must. I’m thrilled that Dr. Levy is aware of Bayview and the research of which we were collaborating with Seattle Pacific University from our AgeUp initiative. This was one small step to shine a light on the value of a positive aging mindset. Until we can see major shifts in how elders are valued in Western culture, we need as best we can to tune out the negative messages and tune in to the many gifts that a lifetime of experience brings; and there are many. Here’s one that I love: Older brains have enhanced abilities for creative thoughts and endeavors -- see the research of Dr. Gene Cohen and others.

The gifts our Bayview residents share with staff and each other make profound impacts on our Bayview world and the world around us. There is much to celebrate as we all embark on our aging journeys. The best part: The science tells us so, thanks to the research of Dr. Levy and others. Don't you love that?

 

Nancy Weinbeck is the CEO of Bayview in Queen Anne.