The increase in life expectancy has led to a variety of studies focusing on the risk factors for deteriorating health status in old age. A prominent risk factor is dealing with trauma, stress and tension, which can lead to illness and poor health.

When it comes to recurring situations, i.e. cumulative stress, the consequences can be even more significant, all the more so in older ages.
New research by the doctoral student Michal Lewinsky, Under the supervision of Prof. Miriam Schiff of the School of Social Work at the Hebrew University, first examined the relationship between cumulative stress states and the deterioration in the health status of older people over a long period of time in the aging process, over 14 years and six time points.

The data were collected in the Health, Aging and Retirement Survey in Europe and Israel, conducted on the elderly population since 2004. Surveys on a sample of about 7,000 people showed that adults aged 65 and over, who reported cumulative stress and trauma, were at high risk for faster and more serious health deterioration. The results were repeated even when variables such as age, sex, income, country of residence and mental health were taken into account.

The findings of this study reinforce the claim that it is important to examine the consequences of the accumulation of stressful situations that occur throughout life, and not primarily in childhood, as most studies examine. However, the data showed that the consequences of stress and trauma are not identical on different aspects of health.

Thus, the implications for subjects’ movement limitations in the objective index were more significant than the deterioration in the subjective index in which participants were required to rate their overall health assessment on their own. “This finding may indicate the complexity of the consequences of stress and trauma on health. Although there is a faster objective deterioration in health, people may perceive their health differently, and report a lesser sense of deterioration,” the researchers say.

Given that the average age of populations in many countries is rising rapidly, including in Israel, it is important to understand the risk factors associated with health deterioration. The study reinforces the understanding that the lifelong accumulation of emotionally stressful events may affect physical health many years later and that the phenomenon is particularly pronounced when it comes to the aging period, when there are many challenges.

“It may be possible to characterize some adults as having a high risk of increased deterioration, due to the events they have experienced throughout their lives. .

Stress in old age and dealing with it / Michal Lewinsky

Life expectancy in the last 100 years is the longest in human history. The percentage of older people out of the world population continues to rise, and the long years of life may result in greater exposure to stressful events throughout life.

Beyond the personal stressful events that people may encounter throughout their lives, exposure to stress is on the global agenda in light of the wars, terrorist incidents and natural disasters that occur in the world, or in light of a particularly topical example – the corona plague.

While the potential negative consequences of stress are universal and apply throughout life, older people may be particularly vulnerable. This period of life is characterized by great loss as well as a decrease in available resources and capabilities. Different models of resilience describe the components that may help a person develop the ability to cope with stressful situations and adapt to life circumstances.

They have found various components that may help with the consequences of stress in old age, including psychological, emotional, environmental and behavioral factors. In practice, a number of stress reduction strategies have been found to be effective in old age.

Particularly significant is maintaining an active social life and close relationships with family and friends, which allows for sharing difficulties and feelings, imparts a sense of security and even provides a tool for learning about additional coping strategies.

Subsequently, voluntary activity was found to be useful in improving the positive and capable feeling of the person in old age, as well as a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a balanced diet and relaxation exercises.

The author is a doctoral student at the School of Social Work at the Hebrew University

By Editor

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