Few of us would argue against the idea that concerns over our finances bring on stress, but a study has found it’s the Number One stressor for older adults. Money worries lead to greater health risks for seniors, particularly those involving their immune, hormone and nervous systems, researchers from the University of London (UCL) and Kings College found.
To understand what sorts of concerns affect seniors' health the most, the UK researchers looked at five major life stressors:
To see how these issues affected older adults, the researchers analyzed the health data on nearly 5,000 participants who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing — a nationally representative, multidisciplinary, prospective observational study of the English population aged 50 years and older.
Those stressed by finances were nearly 60 percent more likely to show a high-risk profile four years later. This is probably because financial stress can affect so many aspects of our lives.
The UK scientists checked the participants' blood and analyzed the following biomarkers: cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress; C-reactive protein (CRP and fibrinogen, immune system players that respond to inflammation; and insulin-growth factor-1 (IGF-1) which is linked to aging and longevity.
After reviewing the results, the investigators determined that financial strain was by far the riskiest for overall health and longevity.
There were other significant findings:
- Participants who reported feeling stress in general were 61 percent more likely to show a high-risk biomarker profile four years later.
- Those stressed by finances alone were nearly 60 percent more likely to show a high-risk biomarker profile four years later.
- Participants who experienced an additional stressor like divorce were likely to have their risk profile jump by 19 percent.
Although the results were not changed by other factors such as genetics, socioeconomics, age, sex or lifestyle issues such as alcohol consumption, it should be noted that the vast majority of the study’s participants were white, which places limitations on the associations of overall stress. That said, the findings were significant for the population that was studied.
“We found that financial stress was most detrimental to biological health, although more research is needed to establish this is certain,” Odessa Hamilton, UCL epidemiologist and a researcher in Biobehavioral Epidemiology and Precision Medicine, said in a press release.
“This may be because this form of stress can invade many aspects of our lives, leading to family conflict, social exclusion, and even hunger or homelessness,” she added.
The negative long-term effects of stress on our health have been well-documented and include far-ranging issues — from sleep, digestion, immune system dysfunction and reproductive issues — to cardiovascular and heart problems. Stress can also contribute to weight gain and problems with focus and memory.
The CDC offers these tips for coping with stress:
- Pay attention to your breathing — and take deep breaths
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stressful events in your life, get help. Speak to your healthcare provider or a licensed therapist.
The study is published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.