Why are some 80-year-olds in better health than some 60-year-olds? Genetics play a part, but caregivers have also identified specific traits that can make a significant difference in seniors’ well-being.
“While illnesses can take a toll on anyone’s mobility, strength, and health, I have found that certain patients’ personality traits and habits help them better cope with and overcome health challenges,” says Amealya Blake, a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, a nonprofit home- and community-based health care organization.
Here, Blake highlights the importance of 5 particular personality traits that contribute to the health and happiness of seniors:
1. Healthy Seniors Are Optimistic
Not only are pessimistic people a drag to be around, but their negative mental outlook can also affect their physical health.
On the flipside, says Blake, “a patient with a positive attitude is more likely to contribute to their own wellness, as well as be open to advice and help from their care team.”
After all, it has been shown time and again that the mind and body do not exist independently of each other; rather, they are intimately connected. Seniors who retain their optimism, even in the face of illness, are typically able to enjoy life and stay healthy longer.
2. Healthy Seniors Are Resilient
It’s not easy to handle the passing of time and the more unpleasant effects of aging, but seniors who are able to bounce back from hardship are usually much more content than those unable to adjust to misfortune or change.
“Resilience gives you the ability to roll with the punches and take life’s challenges in stride,” says Blake, adding that seniors who are able to adapt to life’s changes do seem to live happier and healthier lives.
3. Healthy Seniors Stay Connected
As we get older, it’s common to lose touch with others and lead lives of loneliness. Seniors who make an effort to stay connected to others, however, can actually boost their own health and well-being.
“Patients who are motivated to build or tap into a network of family, friends, and health professionals feel supported in their desire to stay well, and know whom to turn to for help,” says Blake.
The truth is, you’re never too old to nurture connections, even with those who live far away. In fact, Blake once cared for a 99-year-old who was committed to staying connected: “Despite her age, she was well versed in technology and had her own iPad to communicate with friends and family.”
4. Healthy Seniors Are Active
Some seniors focus a great deal of energy on their health problems, letting their illnesses and infirmities define them. But, with a desire to learn and enjoy new experiences, you can choose another path, says Blake.
“Those who make it a point to expand and exercise their mind are able to live a full life outside of their illness and more successfully overcome challenges that spring up,” she says.
Whether you’re swimming, playing brain games, or taking classes at a senior center, holding on to your curiosity and staying physically and mentally active can keep you from becoming a victim of your circumstances.
5. Healthy Seniors Contribute to Society
You may have aged, but that doesn’t mean you’ve outlived your usefulness. Indeed, those who have a desire to contribute to society stay healthy longer, says Blake. Even if it’s just making a call to say hello or smiling at someone in the elevator, she says, helping others will actually help seniors themselves.
“Everyone wants to feel wanted and valued, no matter their age. The patients I have worked with who find ways to continue impacting the lives of others, no matter how small, are the ones most motivated to take care of their own health.”
Of course, these five traits are not an exhaustive list, but they’re a good place to start. And, Blake says, all of these traits can combat seniors’ risk of a downward spiral.
“How a patient feels internally dictates how willing they will be to seek a happy and fulfilling life.”
CHIME IN: Which health-preserving personality traits would you add to this list?