Aging and Emotional Stability

March 2, 2018

Image Credit: Ellen26 / Pixabay.com

 

As anti-aging research keeps aiming for new heights, and a breakthrough is expected to occur within the lifespan of today’s adults, other issues arise – ethical, psychological, health-related, and philosophical, for that matter. It’s rather clear-cut that living for a long time is very different from remaining on top of your game, being physically and mentally active and emotionally capable for the longest possible time.

That’s why, besides straightforward longevity research, which aims to prolong the human lifespan, there are many studies being conducted that are related to keeping the brain healthy and efficient and the body in shape in the later stages of life. While not a panacea, the direction here is more or less clear – both brain and muscles need exercise to stay fit, and the rest boils down to precise forms of such physical and intellectual exercise. The body also requires special supplements to provide the organs and systems with the substances distinctly required by an aging organism.

Emotion processing

Another aspect of the human persona that requires as much attention as the body and mind, is the emotional side of being. Just as every other element, it undergoes many transformations along our life path, and as we age, certain typical changes begin to occur in the majority of people. What are they, and how are they to be approached?

Studies suggest that emotional intelligence, or EQ, increases with age. Not for everyone, and not hugely, but there is a statistically significant correlation. It can probably be attributed to learning from life experience. Enhanced emotional stability is characteristic of older adults, and while it has apparent positive effects, such as the ability to deal with negative emotions, reinterpreting them instead of suppressing, there’s also a downside. The fact that seniors are often prone to depression may also be linked to an increase in emotional stability. Too much of a good thing can indeed be bad, as we already know.

Insights from Our Ageing Brain

In his book Our Ageing Brain, renowned neuroscientist André Aleman of the University of Groningen discusses the particular emotional features distinctive of the older age. The general observation that he makes is that older people are generally happier than their younger counterparts, they are friendlier, more empathic, flexible and better able to deal with complex social situations. Aleman attributes the greater emotional intelligence that he observed in older adults at least in part to a shift in the brain functioning that occurs with age. For instance, older people seem to use their pre-frontal lobe more actively in processing emotional experience, rather that the amygdala, which is involved in processing of feelings in the younger subjects. There are other effects on the emotional state that are determined by the physical changes in the brain that are associated with aging. Perhaps, the relative loss of mental acuity that plagues many seniors is the price of the emotional integrity and acceptance that is also characteristic of the older age in the best-case scenario?

Aleman also notes that depression in seniors is often related to the crisis experienced during the latest of the Erikson’s six psychological stages, which is slated to begin at approximately 65 and entails the paradigm of ego integrity vs. despair. At that time, a person may look back at his or her life and compare it with their ideas of a ‘good’ life, either being satisfied with it, achieving ego integrity, or dissatisfied, leading them to despair. The successful overcoming of the crisis at this stage in life leads to the development of wisdom and a general feeling of happiness.

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