Mood Boosts Elder Brain Power

When you’re in a good mood, it’s almost amazing what you can accomplish. This has little to do with emotions and even less with temperament. The former are short-lived and specific, and may be turned on by a single stimulus. The latter are characteristics that are seemingly innate rather than learned. Moods may be disarrayed, as in depression and bipolar disorder, and are subjective, although they may be inferred by conduct or body language. Many things can trigger a bad mood, and what disturbs one person might be ridiculous to another. In some circles, bad mood is believed to originate when one’s ego becomes threatened by a situation, event or condition beyond his control. Foul moods can interfere with many of our individual enterprises and ventures, not the least of which are the mental acrobatics that have seen us through thick and thin from youth to the extremes of middle-age. With age there may come decline, physically, emotionally and mentally. But we may have more control over this than previously thought. Is it possible that we can improve physical health, which will improve mood, which will improve mental faculties?

We already know that diet and exercise can enrich physical well-being and probably extend life…and the quality of life as we live it. Newspapers, magazines, the internet, television programs, and even the beauty parlor help to deliver information about longevity and agelessness. With a little thought, it’s possible to separate the wheat of the message from the chaff. The time at which old age begins is subjective, and ranges from sixty-five to the mid seventies, depending on whom you ask. Most of us believe that old age is for other people. That attitude will bless you with almost-eternal youth.

A vagary of aging is the diminution of working memory and instant decisiveness. The invincibility of youth gives way to the deliberations of middle-age and eventually to the tentativeness of senior citizenship. The culmination of this time line puts us on the game board square labeled “moody” or “testy” or “cranky.”  Modern research tells us that good mood can counterbalance these vagaries, and that trivial gestures, like giving a person a small bag of candy, can help to improve performance on tests of decision making and working memory.

In an interesting work done at Decision Research, in Oregon, good mood in twenty-three seniors was engendered with a bag of candy and a Thank-you card as a reward for agreeing to take part in the study. An equal number of seniors received no reward, and were considered the control group. Both groups were assigned to individual computers. The candy group saw happy faces and smiling suns on their sky-blue backgrounds. The control group saw neutral round images with no facial features. In tests of speed and accuracy that entailed experiential, sequenced learning, the candy group made significantly better choices than the neutral group. An extension of this mode to real life is analogous to meeting a person for the first time, and having to decide if she or he is trustworthy. What the study suggests is that people in a good mood are able to make such a determination faster and more accurately.

Working memory is linked to learning outcomes, encompassing the recall of instructions and the ability to complete an activity based on them. It boils down to how much information you can hold onto at one time. This function is important to decision making. The seniors in the happy group fared better than the others (Carpenter, 2013). It can be such that those who are suddenly elated forget their aches and pains and their trials and tribulations, thus vouching for the promises of a good mood. If good mood improves memory, then being able to remember might just improve mood, particularly for those beleaguered with cognitive interruptions.

Lots of factors can throw the body out of balance, but if you are chemically balanced, your moods will also be. It has been established that positive feelings facilitate working memory and decision making. Nutrients can do the same, especially if they are proportioned to maintain stable blood sugar. Because some seniors are prone to the loss of gustatory sensation, eating may be a chore rather than a pleasure, in which case nutrient supply may be shallow. Supplementation with at least one nutrient--vitamin B6, for example—has been found to improve storage of information (Deijen, 1992).

When the elderly are able to cheer each other on, as in a community setting, they are more apt to comply with those dietary interventions aimed at physical and mental maintenance. That flavor enhancement induces appetite by overcoming perceptual losses has been demonstrated at home and institutional settings (Schiffman, 1993), and the inclusion of essential fatty acids, whether from foods or supplements, has been found to enhance cognitive function (Yehuda, 2012) and, thereby mood (Parker, 2006) (Stahl, 2008).

Keeping Grandpa or Grandma in a good mood is essential to family serenity. In a time when several generations might live together, this could be as simple as letting them control the remote. Trading Ed Sullivan reruns for peace of mind is probably worth it if Gramps can simultaneously offer a compelling review of last Sunday’s pot roast dinner.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.