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Self-esteem is important for the health of older people

Harold Mandel's picture
An elderly couple taking a walk

The special emotional needs of elderly people, such as support of their self-esteem, should not be overlooked. Living to an old age can create very sensitive issues for people if their value is understated. In order to assist elderly people to maintain their overall health and sense of well being it is important to help them feel needed with efforts to enhance their self-esteem.

Research has suggested that self-esteem can decline in older adulthood, reports the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. The process of a lowering of self-esteem in the elderly has within it the power to remove a buffer which generally protects people against distress which is associated changes in cortisol secretion. Researchers from Concordia University investigated this possibility by testing into whether changes in self-esteem would predict various alterations in cortisol secretion. This study focused on older adults who reported to be suffering from high levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress.

There were 147 elderly people aged 60 and above in this study. The subjects completed three days of diurnal cortisol measurements at three different times, every two years over a total period of four years. Measurements of self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and perceived stress were taken at T1 and T2. It was indicated on linear regression models that a lowering in self-esteem from T1 to T2 predicted elevated cortisol output from T2 to T3. Analyses showed that this association was particularly strong among the participants who experienced higher T1 or T2 levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress. The association was not significant among study participants who reported relatively lower levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress.

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It was concluded that declines in self-esteem represent a mechanism which contributes to higher levels of diurnal cortisol secretion in older adults who experience psychological distress. In contrast to this, increases in self-esteem can ameliorate cortisol regulation of adults in stressful circumstances. What this means is that the researchers determined that boosting self-esteem prevents health problems for elderly people, reports Concordia University in a review of this research.

The Concordia University study has showed that confidence is a significant buffer to the stress of old age. We generally think of the significance of boosting self-esteem as being most strongly associated with the stresses of going through adolescence. This new research shows that maintaining and improving confidence levels is even more important for elderly people. Boosting self-esteem has been found to actually help buffer potential health threats which are typically associated with the changes which occur as people become older.

Psychology researchers Sarah Liu and Carsten Wrosch from Concordia University’s Center for Research in Human Development led this study wherein it was found that boosting self-esteem can really buffer potential health threats in older people. Liu and Wrosch investigated changes to self-esteem which occurred within each individual over time. They observed that if an individual’s self-esteem decreased, the stress hormone cortisol increased. The same association was seen in reverse. The association was found to be particularly strong for elderly people who already had a history of stress or depression.

The research team spent time meeting with the 147 adult participants who were aged 60 and over in order to measure their cortisol levels, self-esteem, stress, and symptoms of depression every 24 months over the course of four years. Standard questions, such as whether or not the participant felt worthless, were used to measure self-esteem. It was seen in the results that maintaining or even improving self-esteem could actually help to prevent health problems. Liu said, “Because self-esteem is associated with psychological wellbeing and physical health, raising self-esteem would be an ideal way to help prevent health problems later in life.”

It appears to me that elderly people who are assisted in maintaining a strong sense of self-worth via boosting their self-esteem really are overall more healthy in body and mind. The special emotional needs of the elderly should therefore always be highlighted. Advances in medical science which help many people live longer serve little real benefit for the elderly without a focus on also helping the elderly maintain a high quality of life. Working to boost the self-esteem of the elderly may very well be a significant manner to help maintain such as high quality of life for older people.