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Traditionally, old age is associated with both physical and mental frailty. However, a number of studies exist that disprove the notion that specific abilities deteriorate in the elderly. This paper is concerned with disproving the myth that mental and physical deterioration inevitably accompany old age.
The elderly are perceived as inactive, infirm, dissatisfied with life, and needing nothing more than peace and rest. The traditional biological model of aging emphasizes a decline and deterioration in function (Victor, 2013). The role of age is dominant in the measurement of intellectual ability, which is proven by IQ tests (Botwinick, 2013). However, a number of studies disprove that these notions exist.
A population-based, mixed-methods study evaluated whether physical, cognitive, and mental functions in individuals decreased with age. The goal of the study was to comprehensively assess these central areas of functioning by investigating “which health and psychosocial characteristics were most important for explaining individual differences in mental health indicators (i.e., depression and life satisfaction)” (Jopp, Park, Lehrfeld, & Paggi, 2016, p. 2). The participants were interviewed as per their daily lives and health status, and the Mini-Mental State Examination and the Global Deterioration Scale were employed to measure their cognitive functioning. An assessment of their mental health was made using the Geriatric Depression Scale and the Satisfaction with Life Scale. Statistical analyses were then used to interpret the results.
The results indicated that the majority of the participants dealt with multimorbidity; however, 67% subjectively perceived themselves as being in good health and experiencing moderate difficulties with their daily tasks. The findings demonstrated high cognitive function, with 93% having no or little cognitive limitations. More than 80 % of the participants of the study did now show any symptoms of depression; life satisfaction was found to be moderate. Overall, the findings indicated that the elderly subjects were in rather good psychological health and were capable to meet challenges typically associated with their age (Jopp et al., 2016).
A community-based study of Thomas et al. (2017) was concerned with the hypothesis of whether mental health improves with age. The researchers examined both linear and non-linear trends of health (including physical, mental, and cognitive conditions) throughout life (Thomas et al., 2017). Cross-sectional data were obtained via phone interviews using a random digit dialing method. Self-report measures of physical health, cognition, and the positive and negative attributes of mental health were collected and analyzed via power polynomial regression models. The findings revealed that the old age is typically connected with better mental health despite the fact that the other two conditions deteriorate with aging (Thomas et al., 2017).
A study by Carvalho, Rea, Parimon, and Cusack (2014) is a meta-review on the correlation between physical activity and cognitive function in persons over 60 years of age, employed methods of a randomized controlled trial, prospective cohort, case-control, and longitudinal studies. The researchers hypothesized that physical activity improves cognition. Those with systemic disorders and comorbidities that made exercising impossible were excluded from participation.
The study discovered evidence that aerobic exercise is more effective in slowing degenerative neurological processes via cerebral blood flow improvement. Moderate physical activity was demonstrated to enhance existing cognitive function and aid in the maintenance of optimal cognitive function, as well as prevent or delay the progression of cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other neurocognitive disorders (Carvalho et al., 2014). However, the researchers indicated that the majority of the evidence was not on the highest quality, which increases the risk of bias and necessitates further studies. To conclude, as per Carvalho et al. (2014), moderate-level physical activity of elderly people help them improve to maintain and even improve their cognitive abilities while preventing or delaying the debilitating disease.
To further address the notion, a 2014 longitudinal research design study by Robitaille et al. (2014) on the subject of social contact intensity, cognitive activity, and depressive symptoms acting as mediators for the relationships between physical activity and cognitive functioning in the elderly employed multilevel structural equation modeling via statistical analyses. The researchers tested the hypothesis that “social contact intensity, engagement in cognitive activities, and depressive symptoms will mediate the within- and between-person relationships between physical activity and cognitive functioning” (Robitaille et al., 2014, p. 335). The findings demonstrated a direct correlation between extended social contact intensity and greater engagement in cognitive activities, which in turn resulted in better cognitive performance. Physical activity was found to be beneficial for the prevention of the cognitive decline in older adults, as it was capable of providing them with an opportunity to build relationships and involve in various cognitive activities preventing the decline (Robitaille et al., 2014).
The findings of these studies suggest that mental deterioration is not inevitable, as the participants were found to preserve high cognitive function and mental health. Additionally, the elderly were found to prevent cognitive deterioration by moderate physical exercise, indicating sufficient physical health, and socializing. The research, however, excluded those suffering from severe conditions; thus, the findings that disprove the myth may be biased. As society perceives the elderly as unable to live a full life and unwilling to be physically and socially active due to their frailty, their needs and abilities are negated, and they are excluded from contribution. However, as the studies indicate, old age is not synonymous with impairments, infirmity, and depression. Mental and physical deterioration, thus, are not inevitable. Therefore, a need for more social, community-based programs exists to engage the elderly in living a full and active life.
Botwinick, J. (2013). Cognitive processes in maturity and old age. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer.
Carvalho, A., Rea, I. M., Parimon, T., & Cusack, B. J. (2014). Physical activity and cognitive function in individuals over 60 years of age: A systematic review. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 9, 661–682. Web.
Jopp, D. S., Park, M. K. S., Lehrfeld, J., & Paggi, M. E. (2016). Physical, cognitive, social and mental health in near-centenarians and centenarians living in New York City: Findings from the Fordham Centenarian Study. BMC Geriatrics, 16(1), 1-10. Web.
Robitaille, A., Muniz, G., Lindwall, M., Piccinin, A. M., Hoffman, L., Johansson, B., & Hofer, S. M. (2014). Physical activity and cognitive functioning in the oldest old: Within-and between-person cognitive activity and psychosocial mediators. European Journal of Ageing, 11(4), 333-347. Web.
Thomas, M. L., Kaufmann, C. N., Palmer, B. W., Depp, C. A., Martin, A. S., Glorioso, D. K.,… Jeste, D. V. (2016). Paradoxical trend for improvement in mental health with aging: A community-based study of 1,546 adults aged 21–100 years. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 77(8), e1019-e1025. Web.
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Victor, C. R. (2013). Old age in modern society: A textbook of social gerontology. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.