Older adults face unique life conditions that can contribute to stress, including declining health and loneliness. Conversely, stressful conditions can cause people to become physically and psychologically ill. “Specifically, prior to determining which characteristics of an individual may modify the effect of perceived stress, it is useful to explore which features of a person’s life contributed to him or her appraising life as stressful in the first place,” said Stacey B. Scott of the School of Psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “Certain aspects of later life may be especially noxious. For example, regardless of how well or poorly an individual fares in other life domains, the presence of chronic health problems may distinguish those who are highly stressed from those who are not.” Scott, who recently led a study to determine which factors influenced stress in older adults the most, believes that combinations of factors may also increase stress. “In an effort to address these questions, the present study explores the patterns by which life events, neighborhood strain, age-related discrimination (i.e., ageism), social isolation (i.e., loneliness), financial strain, and physical health affect the extent to which older adults perceived themselves as generally ‘stressed,’” said Scott.
Scott looked at 282 older adults and found that loneliness increased perceived stress the most, followed closely by financial concerns, neighborhood status and ageism. “The highest perceived stress in this sample was found among those who reported some of the lowest income; however, some participants in this high stress node also reported midrange and high incomes,” said Scott. “These people, who also report feeling extremely stressed compared to the rest of the sample, would have been missed in an intervention using solely socioeconomic status as a targeting tool.” Scott believes that clinicians can use these findings to help treat clients more effectively. He added, “Together, the analyses highlight what may be missed when stress is used as a simple uni-dimensional construct and can guide differential intervention efforts.”
Scott, Stacey B., Brenda R. Jackson, and C.S. Bergeman. “What Contributes to Perceived Stress in Later Life? A Recursive Partitioning Approach.” Psychology and Aging 26.4 (2011): 830-43. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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