Background: Although emerging research has suggested that "positive psychological well-being" is associated with better health outcomes, studies of long-term health and mortality in the elderly are limited. This study assessed the relationship of mental attitude and mortality in older adults followed up for 35 years.
Methods: In the 1980s, the Leisure World Cohort Study recruited residents of a California retirement community to a prospective cohort study of health promotion and disease prevention. Participants completed a postal survey including seven positively worded items from the Zung self-rating depression scale. Age-adjusted and multivariable-adjusted (for lifestyle behaviors and disease conditions) hazard ratios (HRs) for death were calculated using Cox regression for 8682 women and 4992 men (median age at entry, 74 years). During follow-up (1981-2016), 13,405 participants died (median age at death, 88 years).
Results: In both women and men, HRs for death were significantly related to mental attitude with increasing risk with decreasing positive responses for total attitude and the seven individual items. The multivariable-adjusted HR (95% CI) for death for individuals in the lowest vs. highest quarter of total attitude was 1.24 (1.16, 1.32) for women and 1.30 (1.19, 1.41) for men. Some attenuation in the observed associations occurred after adjustment for potential confounders and after elimination of the first five years of follow-up.
Conclusions: Our study suggests that persons with negative attitude have an increased risk of death even after many years of follow-up. Research into strategies to improve mental outlook may help improve the quantity as well as the quality of life.