RAMAT GAN, Israel – “You are only as old as you feel” can be so much more than just a saying. Scientists from Bar-Ilan University report that feeling youth (even in old age) can lead to a better chance of successfully completing rehabilitation from medical conditions. Likewise, the study authors conclude that a youthful mindset can help older adults avoid both disability and disease.
At several Israeli medical institutions, researchers followed 194 elderly patients (aged 73 to 84) as they went through a rehabilitation program for osteoporotic fractures or strokes. Fractures (usually from a fall) and strokes are common medical emergencies in older people and often lead to loss of independence.
The researchers interviewed each participant several times during their stay in rehabilitation. Investigators asked patients about their “subjective age” (how young they felt), feelings and experiences. During this time, the team measured functional independence using the Functional Independence Measurement (FIM) test twice: once when participants were admitted to the rehabilitation program and again at the exit.
Indeed, patients who reported feeling subjectively younger than their actual age at admission showed better functional independence at discharge – about a month later. The benefits of feeling young hold true for patients recovering from both stroke and fracture. Patients who felt young also tended to be more optimistic about their recovery process.
“The effect of subjective age at admission on functional independence at discharge has been confirmed,” says Professor Amit Shrira, of the Gerontology Program in the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, in a press release.
“However, the opposite effect—that of functional independence at admission on subjective age at discharge—has not been confirmed. This supports the conclusion that a younger age identity is a construct psychological importance that contributes to a more successful rehabilitation.
How you feel is the most important factor
Incredibly, the study authors found subjective age to be the strongest predictor of rehabilitation outcomes, even surpassing patients’ chronological age and other health conditions.
“Those who feel younger can maintain their health and functioning for longer periods of time and, as the current study shows, can recover better from disability. Therefore, by perceiving themselves to be aging successfully, people can maintain a healthy and vigorous lifestyle,” adds Professor Shrira.
In conclusion, the study authors argue that physicians need to consider the subjective age of patients when designing rehabilitation protocols. Additionally, future rehabilitation programs could consider actively working with patients to help them feel younger.
The results appear in the journal Gerontology.