Do Environmental Stress, Money Woes Hurt Older Women's
Today's roller-coaster economy has led countless older
adults to worry about making ends meet.
Very likely, that financial stress is affecting their
health and even shortening their lives, according to
researchers at the
Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
Sarah L. Szanton, assistant professor in Nursing
Systems and Outcomes, and Jerilyn K. Allen,
professor in Acute and Chronic Care and associate dean for
research, report in the November 2008
Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences that,
without regard to race, age, education, absolute income,
insurance status and illness, older women expressing
greater levels of financial stress are 60 percent
more likely to die within five years than their less
financially stressed counterparts.
The researchers' longitudinal analysis of 728 women
between 70 and 79 years of age also
suggests that a woman's perception of financial strain may
be a better predictor of mortality than
actual income, particularly among African-American women.
"It seems clear that money worries can be
a significant social determinant of ill health and even
death in later life," Szanton said. "If we can help
address the sources of the financial strain for older
adults, such as the monthly costs of medication
and health care, we may be able to help reduce the toll
economics takes on life and health."
Financial stress isn't the only cause of stress in
older women. A host of social, psychological and
environmental stressors affect mind and body daily, the
researchers say. A growing body of research
suggests that how the body adjusts to those stresses, and
the cumulative effect of a lifetime of
those adjustments, can be measured in increased disability
and illness in later life, a concept called an
Working with the population from the same long-term
study of women's health and aging,
Szanton, Allen and their colleagues report in the January
2009 Biological Research for Nursing that
this lifetime of work by hormones and the immune system to
"reset" the body to chemical balance in
the face of stressful situations may contribute
specifically to late-life frailty in older women.
Critically, the researchers point out that, though not
causal in nature, the association between the
allostatic load's lifetime of stressors and late-life
frailty is independent of chronic disease,
socioeconomic status, race education or other factors.
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