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Study shows hopeless feelings predict mortality in the elderly (3-1-00)

Feelings of hopelessness may not be good for older people's physical health.

That is the finding of a study on the relationship between hopelessness and mortality conducted by Stephen L. Stern, M.D. and Helen P. Hazuda, Ph.D., of the Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Results of the investigation will be presented at the American Psychosomatic Society Annual Meeting held March 1-4 in Savannah, Ga.

"This study shows that older individuals who feel hopeless about the future have a shorter life expectancy than those who are hopeful," Dr. Stern said.

After taking into account other factors that affected mortality in this study—age, ethnic background, smoking, number of medical illnesses, self-rated health and frequency of social contacts—the individuals who said they felt hopeless were still more than twice as likely as hopeful persons to die during the follow-up period.

"We need to do further research to determine the reasons for this association," Dr. Stern said. "We also need to evaluate whether treating hopelessness might prolong older persons’ lives."

The investigation involved 795 community-dwelling Mexican- and European-American adults aged 64 to 79 who were evaluated between 1992 and 1996 as part of the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. The 9 percent who answered no to the question "Are you hopeful about the future?" were considered to have hopeless feelings.

As of August 1999, 29 percent of the individuals with hopeless feelings had died, compared to 11 percent of the hopeful. Persons who expressed hopelessness had an increased risk of dying from both cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Contact: Will Sansom