Strategies to Help Geriatric Men Cope With Aging

Mark L. Fuerst

Strategies to help younger men better handle “hassles” as they age, such as health problems, stress, and cognitive impairment, are recommended.

Most men experience more uplifting events until they turn age 65 to 70 years, when they begin to report more “hassles” with health problems, cognitive decline, and loss of a spouse, according to the results of a new study. Strategies to help younger men better handle hassles as they age are recommended.

“Most older men experience more uplifts than hassles, but those 70 or older may find it increasingly difficult to cope with stress, especially if they experience some sort of mild cognitive impairment,” Carolyn M. Aldwin, PhD, Professor, Human Development & Family Sciences, at Oregon State University, Corvallis, told ConsultantLive.

“In an earlier study we found that retired men also do more chores and tasks around the house, such as replacing the garage door or painting the house,” she noted. “They may also increase volunteering and/or serving as church elders or on city councils, which can also be sources of hassles.”

Dr Aldwin and colleagues at Boston University used data from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study, which looked at 1315 men aged 53 to 85 years. The cohort was composed predominantly of white males who initially were in good health at entry into the study in the 1960s. The study aimed to take a fresh look at the emotional reactions of older adults.

For 80% of the men, the hassles they encountered from their early 50s on tended to decline until they reached about 65 to 70 years, and then the hassles rose. Conversely, about 20% of the men perceived experiencing more uplifting events until they turned 65 to 70 and they began to decline.

Several possibilities may explain why men change the way they react to hassles in their 70s. The hassles may be getting more serious as they face increasingly poor health and the loss of loved ones. If they experience any sort of brain insult, such as transient ischemic attacks, or experience mild cognitive impairment, emotional regulation may become more difficult if the prefrontal lobe is affected.

Dr Aldwin added, “There are some suggestions that combat veterans who were successful in keeping problems at bay while they were working may start remembering their combat experience and becoming more distressed, either as a function of the life reminiscence, which often kicks in in late life, or as their old buddies start dying off. This may increase distress, which makes coping with daily hassles more problematic.”

Three strategies work well to help younger men learn to better handle hassles as they age, Dr Aldwin noted. “Develop a good repertoire of coping skills, especially more positive ones, such as problem-focused coping and emotional regulation,” she said. “Develop a good, supportive social network. For many men, their primary source of social support is their wives, but developing a better friend network is also helpful. And being physically fit is one of the best protectors against stress reactivity, so having a regular exercise program may help.”

Taking these results into consideration, Dr Aldwin suggests that primary care physicians stay alert for increasing psychological distress in their older male patients.

The results of the study will be published in the March 2014 issue of Psychology and Aging.