Comparative optimism in older adults' future health expectations.Br J Health Psychol 2018; 23(3):758-774BJ
Despite a common belief that health declines with age, many older adults remain optimistic about their future health. However, the longitudinal impact of personal and comparatively optimistic future health estimates (FHEs) is unclear.
Among 408 older adults (Mage = 70.32 years), this study identified the prevalence, source, and two-year stability of comparatively optimistic FHEs; examined demographic, psychosocial, and health correlates of comparative FHEs; and assessed the role of comparative FHEs in predicting eight-year survival odds.
Nearly half of participants were comparatively optimistic due to interpersonal pessimism more so than personal optimism. Regarding stability, comparative optimism declined over the two-year period. Being younger and having more perceived control, dispositional optimism, and recent positive emotions were associated with better FHEs for oneself and a similar other. Beyond effects of age, gender, relationship status, and dispositional optimism, optimistic personal FHEs predicted eight-year survival odds.
Findings have implications for predicting survival and advancing the conceptual understanding of comparative FHEs. Statement of contribution What is already known on the subject? Previous research has demonstrated that older adults tend to believe diminished health accompanies increasing age. Despite this notion, older adults remain comparatively optimistic about their health. What does this study add? The longitudinal results of the current study indicated that nearly half of participants were categorized as comparative optimists, primarily due to interpersonal pessimism. The current study demonstrated that there is little distinction between personal FHEs and those for a similar other in terms of demographic, psychosocial, and health correlates. The current study identified factors that predicted eight-year survival among older adults, such as being female, younger, in a committed relationship, and better personal FHEs.