June 15, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 24


Newly Granted


Hopeless feelings predict increased mortality, study indicates

Researchers at the Health Science Center have found that older adults who feel hopeless about the future are more than twice as likely to die over the next several years as those who are hopeful.

Drs. Stephen L. Stern and Helen P. Hazuda, faculty members in the departments of psychiatry and medicine, report these findings in the May-June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. "Our findings suggest that feeling hopeless is not good for older people's health," Dr. Stern said.

The study involved 795 Mexican and European Americans 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. Several years into the follow-up period, 29 percent of these individuals had died, compared to 11 percent of those who were hopeful.

"We need to do further research to determine how hopelessness might increase the risk of death," Stern said. "We also need to study whether treating hopelessness with psychotherapy or antidepressant medication might prolong older persons' lives."

The researchers noted that measuring hopeless feelings by a single yes-no question made it impossible for them to say how different degrees of hopelessness might affect mortality.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study. Psychosomatic Medicine is the official bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.