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Does psychosocial distress elevate your risk of stroke?

Susan Everson-Rose, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Older Americans dealing with high levels of psychosocial distress are at higher risk for stroke, according to a University of Minnesota study.

Psychosocial distress is broadly defined as internal conflicts and external stress that prevent a person from self-actualization and connecting with others. It can include depression, stress, and a negative outlook.

For this study, University researchers followed more than 4,000 people aged 65 and older through the Chicago Health and Aging Project. They measured psychosocial distress using four indicators: perceived stress, dissatisfaction with life, neuroticism, and depressive symptoms.

Those people who had the most psychosocial distress had three times the risk of dying from stroke and a 54 percent increased risk of being hospitalized for the first time compared with those who had the least amount of distress in their lives. The risk of distress also climbed with age.

The research, published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, noted that the impact of psychosocial distress on stroke risk did not differ by race or gender.

“People should be aware that stress and negative emotions often increase with age,” says lead researcher Susan Everson-Rose, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director of the Medical School’s Program in Health Disparities Research. “Family members and caregivers need to recognize [that] these emotions have a profound effect on health and that it’s important to pay attention when older people complain of distress.”

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