London - Older women, “plucky” people and those who have suffered a recent major loss are the most likely to be compassionate toward strangers, according to a new study.
Researchers say because compassionate behaviour is linked with better health and well-being as we age, their findings offer insights into ways of helping people whose lack of compassion put them at risk of becoming lonely and isolated later in life.
Study co-author Doctor Lisa Eyler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California said: “We are interested in anything that can help older people age more successfully.
“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.”
The study, based on a survey of more than 1 000 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.
Co-author Doctor Dilip Jeste, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences, added: “What is exciting is that we are identifying aspects of successful ageing that we can foster in both men and women.
“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.”
The findings were published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. - Daily Mail