Findings may lead to increased mobility, independence for elderly
BOSTON--Positive words picked up the walking pace of older persons, according to a Boston study that blames a pessimistic outlook on aging for the slower treads typical of many older people. Walking speed can predict future health and independence in older persons.
The research is published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
"What's surprising is that the way in which older people view older people can significantly affect their physical function," says lead author Jeffrey Hausdorff PhD, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "The clinical ramifications of this finding need to be studied further, but clearly if we as a society could work to minimize the negative stereotypes about aging and being old, we could likely improve physical function and independence as well as psychological well-being in the fastest growing segment of the American population."
For the study, 47 healthy men and women with an average age of 70 were assigned randomly to one of two groups. Individuals in each group played a 30-minute computer game that flashed words associated with aging stereotypes on the screen. The words flashed by too quickly to read, but slow enough to perceive subconsciously. Those who received the subliminally delivered positive words, such as "wise," "astute," and "accomplished," subsequently increased their walking speeds by 9 percent. Those who received negative words about aging, such as "senile," "dependent," and "diseased," maintained the same walking speed.
A person's usual walking speed is a common measure of overall fitness and physical function and has been correlated to the short-term risk of nursing home admission and death in older people. Studies by others have shown that walking speed decreases 9 percent to 30 percent with advancing age.
"While many factors may con
Contact: Carol Cruzan Morton or Bill Schaller
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center