The findings were based on telephone interviews and in-home surveys that assessed the cognitive, physical, and mental health of 1,546 adults aged 21 to 99 from San Diego County, California. Participants were excluded from the study if they lived in a nursing home, were known to have received a prior diagnosis of dementia, or had a terminal illness.
A comparison of the age groups revealed that while physical and cognitive function showed an accelerated decline with age, the age effects on mental health showed a linear increase from the 20s to the 90s.
“Overall, our findings support the existence of a ‘paradox’ in which aging is associated with better mental health among older adults at the population level despite loss of physical and cognitive function,” wrote Dilip Jeste, M.D., and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). “The magnitude of this apparent change was substantial, with the oldest cohort having mental health scores 1 SD [standard deviation] higher than the youngest cohort’s [mental health scores], in sharp contrast to the 1.5 and 2 SD differences (suggesting declines) in physical and cognitive function, respectively.”
Jeste is the senior associate dean for healthy aging and senior care and the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging at UCSD and a former APA president.
In contrast to positive mental health reported by older adults, the authors found adults in their 20s and 30s reported high levels of perceived stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“This ‘fountain of youth’ was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than during any other period of adulthood,” Jeste told Psychiatric News. He noted that “while adolescence has long been an area of social and scientific concern, relatively little attention has been paid to the issues that continue or get exacerbated after adolescence.”
The study concluded, “There is a critical need for lifespan research combining psychosocial and biological sciences to improve our understanding of the processes that underlie increased psychological well-being in later life and to help develop broad-based interventions to promote wellness and mental health in all age groups.”
For related information, see Positive Psychiatry: A Clinical Handbook from American Psychiatric Association Publishing. APA members may purchase the book at a discount.
(Image: Diego Cervo/ShutterStock)
The House of Representatives passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 (HR 2646) by an overwhelming majority of 422-2 in July. There is now promising momentum to see this legislation passed into law this year, but your help is needed. With Congress on its August recess, APA urges you to contact your senators (junior senator and senior senator) to encourage them to bring the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 to the floor immediately and vote YES on S 2680. Take action now!