Positive Thinking Promotes Health for Elderly and Caregivers


Caregivers may find it hard to promote positive thinking in elderly loved ones. Depression is common in elderly people, and chronic or other ailments may make life’s prospects seem dim to an older person suffering from them.  Yet whether one is a short-term caregiver for a loved one after a recent hospital visit, or an ongoing caregiver during an elderly loved  one’s advanced years, there are ways to promote positivity, and positivity is important in promoting overall well being in one’s elderly loved one as well as in one’s self.


Optimism and Longevity


It makes sense to think that the more positive a person is, the longer they will live and this theory was even proven in a study conducted by Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord in 2000. In this study, medical patients were observed for their level of optimism. They were rated either optimistic, pessimistic, or a mix of the two. The study showed that every increase by at least 10 points in a person’s level of optimism helped to decrease their risk of early death by almost 20 percent.


Researchers Allison, Guichard, Fung, and Gilain found that patients who had cancer of the head and neck who were identified as optimistic had a higher one-year survival rate after diagnosis, controlling for all other factors, than those identified as pessimistic.


Optimism and Immunity


Decreased immunity often coincides with aging. As bodies become less able to fight off diseases, chronic illnesses and issues become abundant. Optimism, however, can help to ward off these issues. In a study conducted by Kohut, Cooper, Nickolaus, Russell, & Cunnick that followed elderly patients who had the influenza vaccine, results showed that the group of people that were more optimistic created a higher level of antibodies and were more immune to influenza than those who were more pessimistic.


How to Encourage Positive Thinking


Since positive thinking comes from, within how can someone else encourage optimism in a senior? There are many ways caregivers can positively influence their loved ones. The following tips may help:


  • Elderly loved one should be encouraged to stay connected . Staying connected to loved ones is a great way to stay positive. The less lonely one feels and the more connected to friends and family, the more positive he or she will feel. Isolation breeds depression and pessimism.


  • It can be hard for family members and caregivers to keep smiling as an elderly loved one ages, but the more positive they are, the better the elderly loved one will feel too. Many older people experience anguish, thinking that they are a burden or a drain on their loved ones, so a happy face and sunny disposition will ease everyone’s feelings, even if such aspects and attitudes must be practiced.
  • An elderly loved one wants to know that he or she has contributed and can contribute something of value to the world. If an elderly loved one is able, volunteer work can give a new lease on life. Letting the elderly loved one know that his or her efforts over a lifetime are appreciated too brings comfort and positive feelings.
  • Self-efficacy is an important positive feeling and can chase away the gloom and doom. Family members/caregivers do well to encourage autonomy and independence as much as possible.


Being a caregiver for a loved one brings on its own challenges for the caregiver’s health and well being, but optimism helps here too. An optimistic attitude predicts better health outcomes for family members/caregivers. A study published in the Journal of Family Nursing noted that optimism is a protective factor against the often negative health impacts that caregivers of cancer patients, for example, often experience.


Most people have heard of the power of positive thinking as a spiritual/self help theory propounded by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Now science has found that optimism truly does have transformative power.





Allison, P.J., Guichard C., Fung, K., and Gilain, L. (February 1, 2003). Dispositional Optimism Predicts Survival Status 1 Year after Diagnosis in Head and Neck Cancer Patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 21(3): 543-548. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Retrieved from http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/21/3/543.long. Accessed July 28, 2016.


Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., Segerstrom, S. (November 2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7): 879-889. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4161121/. Accessed July 28, 2016.


Kohut, M. L., Cooper, M. M., Nickolaus, M. S., Russell, D. R., Cunnick, J. E. (2002). Exercise and Psycholsocial Factors Modulate Immunity to Influenza Vaccine in Elderly Individuals. The Journals of Geronotlogy, Series A., 57(9): M557-M562. Retrieved from http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/57/9/M557.short. Accessed July 28, 2016.


Maruta, T., Colligan, R., Malinchoc, M., Offord, K. P. (2000). Optimists versus Pessimists, Survival Rate Among Medical Patients Over a 30-Year Period.  Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75(2): 140-143. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025619611641840. Accessed on July 28, 2016.