Major Health Issue

Stress is an issue for the elderly, in part because of other health problems and their reaction to them, and in part because of their loss of identity and a role in society. Various aspects of life can lessen the impact of stress. A review of the research is conducted, leading to a proposal for an empirical study.


Stress is a major health issue that is not always seen as the cause of the many health problems with which it is associated. Stress is associated with certain particular life events, such as a financial crisis or overwork, though stress can be caused by a number of different factors. Stress has been associated with age in various ways, showing some of the stressors that face the elderly and some of the health problems that result. Some of the research shows the course of stress over a lifetime, meaning how stress may increase during one’s working life and then continue for different reasons in old age. Old age has particular stressors deriving from financial need, health problems, the health problems of loved ones, and problems with children and grandchildren.

Stress is associated with old age because of some of the changes involved in that time of life. Lieberman and Tobin (1988) point this out when they write,’.

Because of the increasing likelihood that valued extensions of self will be lost with advancing age, threat and loss models are prevalent for explaining well-being and adjustment among the elderly. Although loss has at one time or another throughout history been associated with the vast diversity of the physical as well as psychological ills that befall mankind, loss models are particularly relevant to the second half of life. Death of others becomes ubiquitous among the elderly; decreasing physical capacities and chronic impairments must be confronted, and loss of work and family functions results in the roleless role of the elderly (p. 67).

The role people play in their working life is often the cause of stress, but for the elderly, having that role removed can be a cause of stress. The elderly have identified themselves by certain roles, be they father, other, or professional. When those roles no longer apply, the individual may experience stress. This can be seen among certain retired persons, and while some may believe that stress derives from overwork and not from having nothing to do, this is not the case. Stress is an internal response and may result from being roleless after a lifetime of having a clear identity.

Review of Literature.

Other types of loss also contribute to the degree of stress experienced by the elderly. Psychosocial variables affect stress levels, and among these, some that have a documented effect upon health status have been addressed in the literature, these being the number of symptoms and other measures of poor health status experienced by the individual, the loss of an external locus of control, and the size of (and degree of support from) the informal network of family and friends. These variables have been found to be associated with health even after controlling for income, gender, and age. Two of these variables, social support, and stressful life changes, are often studied together to test the buffering hypothesis, holding that the adverse effects of high stress upon health are reduced by the presence of supportive associations, such as friends and family. The effect of locus of control upon health has been studied most often independently of the other two effects, but more and more the direction of research has been to look upon an internal locus of control as an additional buffer moderating the effect of stress on health and on life satisfaction Acredolo, Montgomery, Parks, and Pilisuk (1993) note that the three variables together had not previously been included in a single study of physical health outcomes, though the authors saw good reasons for doing so. They also point out the importance of changes in life in developing stress.

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