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J Gen Intern Med. 2002 Nov;17(11):832-8.

Stressful life events among community-living older persons.

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Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, New Haven, Conn 06504, USA.



To identify the life events that older persons experience as most stressful, to evaluate older persons' perceptions of the consequences of these stressful events for their lives, and to evaluate the relationship of demographic factors and measures of health and functional status to these perceptions.


Cross-sectional study.


Seven hundred fifty-four community-living persons aged 70 years or older.


During a comprehensive assessment, participants identified the most stressful event that they had experienced in the past 5 years and, subsequently, rated its stressfulness and perceived consequences.


Six hundred three participants (80%) identified a stressful life event. Of these, 18% identified a personal illness, 42% the death of a family member or friend, 23% the illness of a family member or friend, and 17% a nonmedical event. Although participants consistently rated their events as highly stressful, they reported widely varied consequences of these events for their lives. While 27% to 59% of participants across the 4 event types reported considerable negative consequences, 17% to 36% reported positive consequences such as starting new activities that have become important to them and changing for the better how they feel about their lives. Dependence in instrumental activities of daily living and depressive symptoms were independently associated with several negative perceived consequences.


Older persons experience a wide array of stressful life events, with only a small minority reporting personal illnesses as the most stressful. Similar stressful events can have either negative or positive consequences for older persons' lives. This variation in response to stressful events among older persons may indicate different degrees of resilience, a potentially important factor underlying successful aging that deserves further investigation.

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