Patterns of stress across the life course and their role in mental health and loneliness in later life


Population aging in Sweden and worldwide makes it essential to increase our knowledge of mechanisms underlying older people's mental health and loneliness to identify preventive strategies. Stress has a clear impact on mental health. Yet, little is known about how different stressors (factors that cause stress) in different contexts throughout the life course impact mental health problems and loneliness in older adults. Moreover, the stress-mental health-loneliness nexus throughout the life course is not well understood.

The overall goal of this project is to better understand how exposure to different kinds of stressors across the life course is associated with mental health and loneliness in older adults. What are the relationships between stressors, mental health, and loneliness across the life course? Can the negative impact of stressors be counteracted through social resources and lifestyle factors?

Longitudinal data will be used to assess stressors in childhood, e.g., family conflicts, adulthood, e.g., work stressors, late adulthood, e.g., conflict with children or grandchildren, and stressors that may play a role from childhood to older age, e.g., financial strain, death of relatives, loved ones, or close friends. Outcomes include anxiety, depressive symptoms, self-reported psychiatric disorders, quality of life, and perceived loneliness. Importantly, we will also study how social resources and lifestyle factors can impact these associations and the role that gender and socioeconomic position play across the life course. Advanced statistical modeling will be used, e.g., structural equation models.

This project aims to identify at-risk groups and modifiable factors that can buffer against stress. The results can support practical recommendations on stress-buffering factors that can be implemented at strategic points in the life course, which can be promoted at a societal level, and, ultimately, help to reach the goals of sustainable and healthy aging for all.

Principal Investigator: Charlotta Nilsen,

Researchers in the project: Deborah Finkel (Jönköping University), Lawrence Sacco (Stockholm University), Shireen Sindi (Karolinska Institutet), Caroline Hasselgren (University of Gothenburg), Martin Hyde (Swansea University, UK).