Study Finds Day-to-Day Experiences Affect Awareness of Aging, Mood

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A study of older adults finds an individual’s awareness of aging is not as static as previously thought, and that day-to-day experiences and one’s attitude toward aging can affect an individual’s awareness of age-related change (AARC) – and how that awareness affects one’s mood.

“People tend to have an overall attitude toward aging, good or bad, but we wanted to know whether their awareness of their own aging – or AARC – fluctuated over time in response to their everyday experiences,” says Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the study.

For the study, researchers enrolled 116 participants between the ages of 60 and 90. Each participant took a survey to establish baseline attitudes toward aging. For the following eight days, participants kept a log of daily stressors (such as having an argument), completed a daily evaluation of age-related experiences (such as “I am becoming wiser” or “I am more slow in my thinking”), and reported on their affect, or mood.

“We found that people’s AARC, as reflected in their daily evaluations, varied significantly from day to day,” says Jennifer Bellingtier, a recent Ph.D. graduate from NC State and co-author of the paper. “We also found that people whose baseline attitudes toward aging were positive also tended to report more positive affect, or better moods.”

“People with positive attitudes toward aging were also less likely to report ‘losses,’ or negative experiences, in their daily aging evaluations,” Neupert says.

“However, when people with positive attitudes did report losses, it had a much more significant impact on their affect that day,” Neupert says. “In other words, negative aging experiences had a bigger adverse impact on mood for people who normally had a positive attitude about aging.”

The study expands on previous work that found having a positive attitude about aging makes older adults more resilient when faced with stressful situations.

The paper, “Aging Attitudes and Daily Awareness of Age-Related Change Interact to Predict Negative Affect,” is published in the journal The Gerontologist.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Aging Attitudes and Daily Awareness of Age-Related Change Interact to Predict Negative Affect”

Authors: Shevaun D. Neupert and Jennifer A. Bellingtier, North Carolina State University

Published: July 18, The Gerontologist

DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnx055

Abstract:

Purpose of the study. Possessing more positive views of one’s own aging is associated with better self-rated health, reduced reactivity to stressors, and better well-being. We examined two components of aging attitudes: awareness of age-related change (AARC) of loss and gain experiences and attitudes toward own aging (ATOA). We expected that AARC would vary day-to-day and interact with ATOA to predict daily negative affect.

Design and Methods. 116 participants (61% female, M age = 64.71, range 60-90) reported on 743 total days via an online daily diary study. On Day 1, participants reported baseline ATOA and baseline AARC for losses and gains. On Days 2-9, daily stressor exposure, daily AARC losses and gains, and negative affect were reported.

Results. Unconditional multilevel models revealed significant within-person fluctuation in daily AARC losses and gains. Controlling for daily stressors, age, and baseline AARC, daily increases in AARC losses were associated with increases in negative affect, and a cross-level interaction revealed that this effect was stronger for those with more positive ATOA.

Implications. AARC gains and losses vary from day-to-day, suggesting that interventions targeting the contextual fluctuations in daily life may be a promising avenue for future research. Specifically, individuals who feel generally positive about their own aging, although less likely to report awareness of daily age-related losses, may be the most vulnerable when they do occur. Efforts to reduce daily AARC losses (e.g., limiting activities due to age, receiving help because others assume age-related deficits) may improve the daily well-being of older adults.

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