A vast number of researchers and health care workers have extensively dedicated their time and money to addressing universal interests in maximizing recovery from rehabilitation. Nevertheless, the most effective technique may simply be a change in perspective. New research examining the association between subjective age and rehabilitation outcomes suggests that the extent of one’s recovery may simply depend on the level of one’s agreement with one colloquial phrase: “You’re only as young as you feel.”
To examine the association between subjective age and physical function, researchers collected data from 194 patients (aged 73-84) at several rehabilitation centers in Israel who were undergoing rehabilitation for two medical emergencies common among older adults: strokes and bone fractures. Researchers interviewed participants several times during their rehabilitation stint and collected data on participants’ “subjective well-being,” feelings, experiences, and functional independence.
The study found subjective age was the strongest predicter of rehabilitation outcomes. Patients who reported feeling younger than their actual age when admitted showed better functional health approximately one month later at discharge, regardless of whether they were recovering from a stroke or fractures. They were also more optimistic about their recovery. The researchers concluded that those who feel younger can maintain their physical functioning for longer periods of time and are better at recovering from disability.
To promote recovery, researchers suggest that rehab programs must consider a patient’s subjective age when deciding upon a rehabilitation plan, and that they should actively work to help older adults feel younger. Patients who are inspired to feel younger psychologically may in turn feel younger physically.
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Kalir, D. M., Shrira, A., Palgi, Y., Batz, C., Ben-Eliezer, A., Heyman, N., … & Bodner, E. (2022). Feeling Younger, Rehabilitating Better: Reciprocal and Mediating Effects between Subjective Age and Functional Independence in Osteoporotic Fracture and Stroke Patients. Gerontology, 1-9.