Stress in Older Adults
Worldwide, it is estimated that by 2050, the 60+ population will double to ~2.1 billion people; longer life expectancies can be attributed to several factors including medical advancements and changes in physical/social environments (World Health Organization [WHO], 2022). The 65+ population the U.S. was 16.8% in 2020 (~1 of every 6 people), a product of steady growth across the 20th century, which was 5x faster than the overall population growth (Caplan, 2023).
This drastic increase in population aging underscores the need to better understand experiences during this life stage, especially stressful experiences. Below, we have defined and identified measures of various types of stress to assist researchers interested in studying stress in later life.
Chronic stress/strain are ongoing circumstances (Dunkel-Schetter & Dolbier, 2011; Wheaton, 1994) and/or enduring problems linked to social roles (Perlin & Schooler, 1978). Unlike other types of stress, these events often occur without clear start and/or end points. Measures typically focus on specific types of events/experiences, such as caregiving, financial strain, and discrimination, which are especially applicable for older adults. Discrimination can be experienced along a variety of sociodemographic characteristics, including age (ageism—prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes based on age; WHO, 2018); an example measure is The Everyday Ageism Scale (Allen et al., 2021).
Traumatic events are defined by the American Psychiatric Association (2013, p. 527) as witnessing or experiencing “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” (e.g., death of spouse/child, diagnosis of life-threatening illness). See Mayer and Crosswell’s Traumatic Life Events entry for a list of measurement tools; timescales vary across measures and can include 6-month, 1-year, or lifetime prevalence. Lifetime prevalence of exposure to traumatic events in adulthood increases with age (Bürgin et al., 2020).
Stressful/major life events measures were previously complied by Mayer (2018) in the Major Life Events entry. Two additional measures were identified for use with (and from) older adult samples: Elders Life Stress Inventory (ELSI; Aldwin, 1990); Louisville Older Person Events Schedule (LOPES; Murrell & Norris, 1984). ELSI was developed from the observation that existing life scale inventories included events that generally occurred more with younger adults (e.g., birth of child). The ELSI includes both egocentric (e.g., divorce) and nonegocentric events (e.g., child’s divorce or separation) that occurred in the past year; the measure includes prompts for both exposure and event severity.
Hassles or daily stressors reflect challenges of daily living (Almeida, 2005). Although older age appears protective against exposure to hassles, severity ratings (Aldwin et al., 2014) and reactivity (Almeida et al., 2023) increase or remain stable, respectively. Measures include the Daily Inventory of Stressful Events (DISE: Almeida et al., 2002) and Hassles and Uplifts Scale-Revised (DeLongis et al., 1988); both assess events in the past day (i.e., 24 hours). The DISE uses an interview approach to gage various aspects of the experiences: (1) what event(s) occurred (e.g., health, work/education); (2) who was involved (e.g., self, other); (3) threat (e.g., loss, frustration); (4) level of disruption (low or medium severity); (5) level of stressfulness (e.g., somewhat stressful), and; (6) primary appraisal across domains (e.g., health/safety, finances).
Authors & Reviewers: Prepared by Maria Kurth and David Almeida.
Version date: September 2023
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