Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Worries of the Oldest-Old

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Worries of the Oldest-Old

Article excerpt

With the emerging population of the oldest-old (those ages 85 and older), it is crucial to understand and prepare for their psychosocial needs. Worry is linked to psychological well-being and physical health, but little is known about the oldest-old's everyday worries. The authors explored four research questions: (1)What are the worries of the oldest-old? (2)What are their specific dimensions of worry? (3) How alike or different are the worry patterns over time? (4) What factors are related to variations in the pattern of change in worry? A convenience sample of 193 community-dwelling people ages 85 and older was recruited to examine various aspects of health and well-being between 1986 and 1995. This article reports on the survivors (N = 23) across three time points, waves 1,4, and 5. The findings suggest that the very old mainly worry about health and memory and that, although worry increased over the study period, there were variations in the pattern of worry over time. Results of t tests show that at wave 4 elderly respondents with a higher level of worry reported more frequent social contact than those with a lower level of worry. Implications for social work practice and future research are discussed.

KEY WORDS: oldest-old; social support; very old; worry


Little is known about the lives of those who are very old, in particular, their everyday worries. Worry is among the more prevalent psychological conditions that people experience at all ages (Carmin, Pollard, & Gillock, 1999), conveying negative thinking about future events (Babcock, Laguna, Laguna, & Urusky, 2000), and it is associated with mental and physical well-being (Skarborn & Nicki, 1996; Wisocki, 1988; Wisocki, Handen, & Morse, 1986). With many very old people facing diminishing physical and social resources, as well as uncertain futures because of advanced age, it would seem that they could have many things to worry about, but it is unclear what their worries are, what specifically contributes to them, and if these worries increase with advancing age.

Most of the work exploring everyday worry has focused on young adults, but in recent years the topic of worry has emerged as a research area of interest among elderly people (Cappeliez, 1989; Powers, Wisocki, & Whitbourne, 1992; Skarborn & Nicki, 1996; Wisocki, 1988; Wisocki et al., 1986). Research findings show there is age variation in degree of worry as well as content of worry. In general, older adults are relatively less worried than younger adults (Babcock et al., 2000; Powers et al., 1992). Babcock and associates suggested that there are a variety of reasons for this age variation. Younger adults are developmentally in a transition stage that may cause greater reason to worry. Older adults may be less willing to acknowledge problems dealing with stressful events and less likely to be in a state of ambiguity about their future. Also, older adults tend to experience various stressful situations as they age. Over time, elderly people might have learned better coping strategies to deal with worry more effectively, resulting in less worry than their younger counterparts.

Research findings have also suggested that there are age differences in what people worry about. Powers and colleagues (1992) found that older adults expressed less worry about finances and social events than younger adults, whereas both age groups worried about health issues, although the specific dimensions of health were not identified. Similarly, Babcock and associates (2000) found that younger adults were more worried than older adults about work, relationships, and finances.

Less is known about degree of worry and content of worry among the oldest-old. A study examining worry among the oldest-old reported that the greatest worries among oldest-old subjects were related to their health and functioning, such as concerns about falls, not having enough energy, or forgetting things (Dunkle, Roberts, & Haug, 2001). …

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