The ilk of human kindness: Older women with gumption score high on compassion, says a new study, "From suffering to caring: a model of differences among older adults in levels of compassion," published online April 15, 2014 in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Researchers at the University of California - San Diego School of Medicine report that older women, plucky individuals and those who have suffered a recent major loss are more likely to be compassionate toward strangers than other older adults.
Because compassionate behaviors are associated with better health and well-being as we age, the research findings offer insights into ways to improve the outcomes of individuals whose deficits in compassion put them at risk for becoming lonely and isolated later in life.
"We are interested in anything that can help older people age more successfully," said Lisa Eyler, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and co-author, according to the April 17, 2014 news release, The ilk of human kindness. "We know that social connections are important to health and well-being, and we know that people who want to be kind to others garner greater social support. If we can foster compassion in people, we can improve their health and well-being, and maybe even longevity."
Three factors are predictive of a person's self-reported compassion
The study, based on a survey of 1,006 randomly selected adults in San Diego County, aged 50 and over, with a mean age of 77, identified three factors that were predictive of a person's self-reported compassion: gender, recent suffering and high mental resiliency. Women, independent of their age, income, education, race, marital status or mental health status, scored higher on the compassion test, on average, than men.
Higher levels of compassion were also observed among both men and women who had "walked a mile in another person's shoes" and experienced a personal loss, such as a death in the family or illness, in the last year. Those who reported higher confidence in their ability to bounce back from hard times also reported more empathy toward strangers and joy from helping those in need.
Successful aging and kindness: Meditating to develop mental resiliency
"What is exciting is that we are identifying aspects of successful aging that we can foster in both men and women," said co-author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, and director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. "Mental resiliency can be developed through meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction practices. We can also teach people that the silver lining to adversity is an opportunity for personal growth."
Maybe a perception of resiliency and kindness may be why pan-handlers more frequently approach an older woman walking alone rather than younger people walking together, as many older report experience as they walk to and from shopping areas. How many times are men walking alone, young women pushing baby strollers, or couples asked for a handout compared to the older woman walking alone, especially if she has white or grey hair or perhaps even more often, pushes a utility cart?
This observation is not in the study, but if you ask older women walking alone in their familiar working-class neighborhood how many times they've been asked for money by a panhandler, particular asked for more money than a panhandler might ask a man, you might take your own survey of why older women are perceived as more subject to compassion or 'giving' behavior by strangers.
Co-authors include Raeanne C. Moore, A'verria Sirkin Martin and Wesley Thompson, Department of Psychiatry and Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, UCSD; Allison Kaup, Sierra Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, San Francisco VA Medical Center and Department of Psychiatry, UC San Francisco; Matthew Peters, Department of Psychiatry, The Johns Hopkins University; and Shahrokh Golshan, Department of Psychiatry, UCSD. This research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health (grants T32 MH019934, P30MH066248 and NCRS UL1RR031980), John A. Hartford Foundation, and Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging.
Other abstracts of recent studies you may wish to check out are, "Aging in place within permanent supportive housing " and "Efficacy and safety of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® in mild cognitive impairment with neuropsychiatric symptoms: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, multi-center trial."