The older people get, the more likely they are to feel stressed out if they are also in poor health, a Swedish study suggests.
How the study was done
Researchers assessed perceived stress among 1,656 adults ages 66 to 97 and found high stress was most common for the eldest among them, afflicting 7.8 percent of those aged 81 and up. That compares to 7.5 percent of adults aged 72 to 78 and 6.2 percent of the study's youngsters, aged just 66.
But age made little difference once researchers adjusted for how sick people were.
"After taking into account the health-related factors such as physical and psychological diseases or symptoms, the stress-age association was no longer there," senior study author Hui-Xin Wang of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said by email.
To understand the connection between stress and ageing, Wang and colleagues focused on older adults without dementia or cognitive decline who were living either in the community or in nursing homes or other institutional facilities.
All of the study participants got extensive medical exams and completed questionnaires to assess their perceived stress as well as cognitive function.
Higher levels of average perceived stress were linked to advanced age, female gender, low education, financial problems, living alone, weaker cognitive function, multiple medical problems, depression and physical disability.
Depression was closely tied to other health-related problems, the researchers found.
The study wasn't designed to prove a causal relationship between stress and health, the authours acknowledge in the journal Age and Ageing. The age bands and sorting of stress into low, moderate or high groups may also have led researchers to underestimate or inflate the connection between stress and advancing age, they note.
If anything, health problems might put even more stress on older adults in the U.S. and other countries where the cost of drugs, doctor visits and hospital stays creates financial burdens not experienced under national health programs in countries like Sweden, noted Dr. Mary Ann Kuzma, a geriatric specialist at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Still, the connection between health and stress makes sense, said Kuzma, who wasn't involved in the study.
"An individual's sense of wellness is a factor that would contribute to stress across all ages," Kuzma said. "Persons who perceive themselves as sicker experience stress at higher levels across all ages than persons who perceive themselves as less sick."
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Source: Age and Ageing