Stress and Coping
Research on stress and coping has successfully identified a variety of stressful life events and chronic strains that are risk factors for depression and declining health in older adults. In addition, research has identified promising mediating and moderating factors that can be useful both for research and clinical purposes aimed at enhancing coping with stress. Intervention research has generally been promising, in that older adults can successfully be taught new coping skills that improve coping with such stressors as family caregiving, health problems, and bereavement.
However, several major concerns are apparent. Research on stress and coping in old age usually examines age differences using cross-sectional study designs. Few attempts have been made to explore developmental changes in stress and coping processes with advancing age. An important issue to explore is how stress appraisals and coping strategies change over time in the context of development.
Another concern is that the widespread use of checklists to assess stressful life events and coping strategies may have serious limitations in advancing our knowledge about stress. New research methods using self-monitoring have been developed to look at the coping of individuals with daily stressors across daily episodes of coping. Some of these studies have focused specifically on problems relevant to aging (such as coping with pain and alcohol use as a coping strategy) and may provide researchers with new methodologies to improve our understanding of this vital area of research.
Finally, a relatively unexplored area has been the study of racial and ethnic diversity as factors affecting stress and coping in late life. A small but compelling body of literature suggests that such stressors as caregiving may be coped with quite differently by subgroups such as African Americans and Mexican Americans. For example, African Americans have been found to perceive caregiving in late life as a relatively benign and expected responsibility, and to evidence lower levels of depression than white caregivers in several studies. As the older population in the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, studies of how cultural diversity affects stress and coping will be extremely important.
WILLIAM HALEY YURI JANG
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