Thinking Negatively About Getting Older Is Associated With Memory and Hearing Loss, Study Finds

Is aging a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Bette Davis famously said, "Old age ain't no place for sissies." And how true it is: Researchers have found that if you don't consider yourself to be frail, you're more likely to keep everything in working order as you age.

In a study published in Psychology and Aging, Canadian psychologists asked more than 300 adults between the ages of 56 and 96 to complete a series of hearing and memory tests. The participants were also asked to share their views on aging and how they felt about their own hearing and memory capabilities.

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The adults who associated getting older with loss — whether it was losing their hearing or memory — had a greater chance of scoring poorly on the actual hearing and memory tests.

"There is a good amount of research showing that negative stereotypes can use up our cognitive resources so that we have fewer available to perform the task at hand," says lead study author Alison Chasteen, PhD, professor in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto.

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She explains that if an older adult has negative views on aging, "this can undermine their confidence in their ability to do a memory or hearing test. And as a result, such negative thoughts can divert their cognitive resources away from the task that they need to do and result in poorer performance."

Simple Strategies for Staying Sharp

Changing your perception may be easier than you think. According to Dr. Chasteen, performing certain training exercises can enhance cognitive and physical skills, not to mention improve your quality of life and banish beliefs about being old. To keep your brain fit, try these exercises, which come from Chasteen's colleague Angie Troyer, PhD, a psychologist and the director of the Memory and Aging Program at Baycrest in Toronto.

  • Embrace your artistic side. Take up painting, writing poetry, or sign up for a photography course.
  • Explore cultural opportunities in your area. "For example, public libraries often offer residents free tickets to galleries or museums," Chasteen says.
  • Teach yourself new variations on old activities. "If you enjoy cooking, try a new recipe."
  • Learn a new skill. Always wanted to learn a foreign language or finally explore the apps on your smartphone? Now's the perfect time to do that! The skill could also be simpler, such as playing Sudoku or other crossword puzzles.

"The most important thing in all of this is that you enjoy what you do!" Chasteen emphasizes. "There is no point in forcing yourself to do crossword puzzles if you don't take pleasure in working on them." She suggests engaging in your chosen activities a few times a week in order "to stimulate yourself cognitively."

In terms of keeping forgetfulness at bay, Chasteen and Troyer suggest doing these brain-boosting activities every day:

  • Jot down important information in an organized way. "Use a date book and bring it everywhere to record all appointments and upcoming events, like birthdays." Also consider using sticky notes for information you'll only need to remember for a short amount of time.
  • Bring structure to your home. "The old adage 'a place for everything and everything in its place,' helps you in reducing misplacements of common objects," Chasteen says. For example, de-clutter your surroundings and establish set locations for your everyday items, such as your wallet, glasses, and keys.
  • Surrender to silence. When you're looking to take in important information, increase your mental focus by reducing distractions, including turning off the TV and radio.
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