Aging Gracefully and Happily Requires Control and Self-Esteem

Declining health is a natural process of aging. The majority of individuals over age 65 experience more physical health problems as they enter the golden years than they did earlier in life. Some experience mild, common health problems, such as high blood pressure, arthritis, memory problems, and fatigue, while others struggle with more debilitating chronic conditions. The way in which an individual believes they are aging directly influences their well-being. This belief is known as a self-perception of aging (SPA) and was the focus of a recent study led by Kerry A. Sargent-Cox of the Centre for Research in Ageing, Health & Wellbeing at the Australian National University in Australia.

Previous research has shown that people with a positive SPA have positive outlooks on life and high levels of life satisfaction, whereas those with negative SPA have more psychological problems, physical problems, impaired cognitive abilities, less desire to live, and increased mortalities. For her study, Sargent-Cox looked specifically at the expectation of control and self-esteem, two factors that directly influence SPA, in a sample of 1,569 Australians over the age of 65. The participants were evaluated five times over a 16-year period and were assessed for their ability to perform activities of daily living, their levels of self-esteem and expectation of control, and overall health.

Sargent-Cox found that decline in physical abilities directly predicted the participants’ impairment of psychological resources, in particular self-esteem and perception of control. These factors then decreased the level of SPA in these individuals. The results also revealed that the participants who exhibited high levels of self-esteem and a reasonable expectancy of control over their health, regardless of their decrease in physical abilities, had higher levels of positive SPA. These findings suggest that even though clinicians may not be able to directly transform an aging client’s physical condition, they may be able to help them change their beliefs about their health and increase their self-esteem, thereby indirectly improving their overall health status. Sargent-Cox added, “The current study has highlighted the important contribution that investigating within- and between-individual variations can bring to the understanding of adaptive mechanisms and coping strategies surrounding successful aging.”

Sargent-Cox, K. A., Anstey, K. J., & Luszcz, M. A. (2012). Change in health and self-perceptions of aging over 16 years: The role of psychological resources. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027464

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  • bella roe

    March 27th, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    The biggest thing thta concerns most about aging is that feeling of loss of independence and the loss of their true selves. It is like the aging population remembers just who they used to be and how self sufficient they used to be, and not having that independence anymore can take its toll on them psychologically. We offer to help them but ultimately they don’t want that kind of help, they want to be able to do for themselves and it is frustrating when they don’t have that ability anymore. None of us really think about that. We think about offering to help and being rebuffed, but don’t stop to think of how irritated we would be ourselves if we lost so much of ourselves to aging.

  • Arthur

    March 27th, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    I think that women have a little harder time with aging and aging with peace than men do. Personally I am just happy to have another year! Think of the alternative!

  • P.Headley

    March 27th, 2012 at 10:23 PM

    There is no doubt some people are just more gifted than others when it comes to health.but we do have some level of control-taking care of our health,both physical and on a psychological level can save us from a lot of issues that come with age.

  • Hollis Cox

    March 28th, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    would think that if the self esteem was not there before, then once the depression about the aging kicks in, then it is going to be even harder to establish positive thoughts about the aging process

  • selena t

    March 28th, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    know your body and your person, be happy and aging will never be a wonder just the perception of yourself can have an effect on your health.

    we should all try to follow things that will eventually help us make our lives easier not only now but also in the future.

  • Melaina

    March 29th, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Where has all of this hatred of the aging process come from? There was a time when our elders were respected and reverd, and now we are looked down upon for our wrinkles. I don’t care, I have earned these wrinkles and I am pretty darn proud of them. For me they tell my story. They show every smile I have ever smiled, every belly laugh I have ever had, every tear that I have shed. Why would I want to forget those things? They are a part of me, part of my life that I would not be me without. Do you really want to lose that map of yourself?

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