Positive ageing: ‘You’re as young as you feel’, evidence shows

Irish research shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health

The Tilda study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing. File photograph: Getty Images

The Tilda study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing. File photograph: Getty Images

 

You really are as old as you feel, a leading expert on ageing has said.

Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator with the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) said their research shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health.

“The saying ‘You’re as young as you feel’ is true,” said Prof Kenny.

Uncovering the Secrets of Successful Ageing is an analysis by Tilda of 10 years of its study of older people.

Its findings, published today, include health, social, and economic factors.

The study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing.

This was true even after participants’ medications, mood, life circumstances and other health changes were accounted for. Negative attitudes towards ageing also seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted.



Hundreds of participants from all over Ireland gathered at Trinity College Dublin today for the 10th birthday of Tilda.

Sattie Sharkey said she volunteered herself to be part of the study because she tended to fall.

“It is very important this research has taken place as it will play such a large role in policy and decision-making, and researchers have gained a real insight into the issues facing older people in Ireland,” she said.

“I used to fall regularly in my home. Falls are debilitating. They not only hurt you physically but they take your confidence away too. My falls were due to a tumour in the back of my head and I had to have an operation.”

Living independently

Ms Sharkey said she enjoyed being interviewed by the Tilda researchers and has more confidence living independently.

“I’d also like to say, I’m younger than the two people who want to be the president of the United States,” she said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Dr Colm O’Reardon, deputy secretary for strategy and policy at the Department of Health, said Tilda’s findings will help to dispel myths about older people and ageing.

“The common portrayal of older people in our society is often that people over 65 have no meaningful contribution to society and it becomes part of the myths about ageing,” he said. “This study will change the assumptions decision-makers will bring when it comes to making policy.”

Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the Health Research Board, said “the time has come to stop HSE-bashing” and to focus on how to improve our health service.

He said the recent RTÉ documentary on the HSE called Keeping Ireland Alive had a positive reaction on social media and from the general public.

“It’s a small turning point in the collective ambition for our health service at a time when collective energies are switched from HSE-bashing to actually defining what ambition we have for our health service here,” said Dr Love.

“I believe that through initiatives like Tilda we can turn our health service into a national treasure.”