Anger and frustration may be more harmful to health in old age than sadness or loneliness, according to new research from the University of Concordia. The institution discovered that as a result of these under-reported emotions, there can be increased inflammation in the body.
In turn, this can lead to heart disease, arthritis and cancer, which are serious conditions that should not be ignored. They can make everyday life difficult and in some cases even lead to death.
Meaghan A Barlow, lead author of the study, said: “As most people age, they simply cannot do the activities they once did, or they may experience the loss of a spouse or a decline in their physical mobility and they can become angry.
“Our study showed that anger can lead to the development of chronic illnesses, whereas sadness did not.”
The scientists investigated whether anger and sadness were contributing factors to inflammation. This immune response is the body’s way of reacting to perceived threats, which can be anything from infection to tissue damage.
Generally, this process helps the body to heal and protects it from long-term damage, but it can have a negative impact too. In the elderly especially, inflammation can trigger chronic illnesses that are hard to recover from.
To carry out the study, the researchers analysed 226 adults between the ages of 59 and 93. They were split into two groups, with the first consisting of those aged 59 to 79 and the second being between 80 and 93.
Over the course of a week, the participants filled out questionnaires about how angry and sad they were feeling. During the same period, inflammation in blood samples from each individual was also measured.
Carsten Wrosch, co-author of the study, said: “We found that experiencing anger daily was related to higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness for people 80 years old and older, but not for younger seniors. Sadness, on the other hand, was not related to inflammation or chronic illness.”
While all of these emotions are seen as negative, they aren’t necessarily, as sadness can help seniors adjust and disengage from goals that are no longer attainable, the experts explained. In younger people, anger can help motivate them towards getting things done, but it’s more problematic for the over-80s.
If you are worrying about the effect of anger or frustration on an elderly relative, then there are a number of ways it can be addressed. Therapy and education are among recommended coping strategies and there’s help out there to put these services into motion.
This is something that should be considered especially at times when an elderly person has experienced a significant loss. This could be the death of a loved one or the need to move out of the home where they’ve lived for many years due to increased care needs.