Letters; January/February 2012; Scientific American Mind; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)
Older and More Stressed
The article “Splintered by Stress,” by Mathias V. Schmidt and Lars Schwabe, was very interesting. Have any studies been done on stress as it relates to a person’s age? Being an older male (I’m 64) in the workforce, I have definitely noticed that my ability to handle stress in general has declined over the years.
SCHMIDT AND SCHWABE REPLY: There is indeed some evidence that the way we handle stress and the way we are affected by it change with age. Studies show that older people typically have higher stress hormone levels throughout the day than younger people and are less able to terminate a sudden response to acute stress—they recover more slowly. Moreover, the brain regions that undergo the most rapid functional decline during aging (for example, the hippocampus) are also those that are involved in the regulation of our stress response systems. That does not mean, however, that older individuals are, by definition, not able to cope with stress. Individuals vary widely in their responses, determined both by genetic predisposition and by life history.