Control, Stress & Poverty:  Research Identifies How Perceived Control Triggers Frailty Among Older Adults

Estimated to affect approximately one in 10 adults aged 65 and older, physical frailty is a common component of older adult development, and is an important risk factor for multiple geriatric outcomes, including institutionalization, morbidity, and mortality. Chronic stress and poverty, which are associated with physical frailty in old age, become increasingly problematic when these factors result in lower perceptions of control, Warner School of Education alumnus Christopher Mooney ’16 (PhD) reports in a study recently published in the Journals of Gerontology.
Christopher MooneyAccording to Mooney, prior research has recognized that psychosocial factors, including chronic stress and perceived control, influence geriatric health outcomes. However, the contribution of these specific factors in the development and progression of physical frailty has been severely limited. The new study, conducted as part of Mooney’s dissertation research at Warner, provides new insights into how psychosocial factors, including chronic stress, socioeconomic status, and perceived control, may lead to physical frailty in old age.
Using population-based samples of older adults from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), Mooney and his co-authors and colleagues from the Warner School and University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), including Warner Associate Professors Kathryn Douthit and Andre Marquis, Warner alumnus Ari Elliot ‘09W (MS), ‘15W (PhD), and URMC Associate Professor Christopher Seplaki, found that perceived control mediated the effects of chronic stress on baseline and change in physical frailty status. In other words, greater levels of chronic stress were associated with lower levels of control, which in turn were associated with greater physical frailty severity.  Similar findings were observed with respect to the role of socioeconomic status on physical frailty, and study findings were equivalent across age, gender, and racial subgroups. 
“The present study helps to advance the understanding of, and more importantly the triggers to, physical frailty among older adults,” said Mooney. “The findings have important implications in regard to interventions aimed at promoting frailty resilience and improving health trajectories for individuals who are at risk, and underscore the importance of psychosocial constructs to the development and progression of frailty in older adults.”
The Journals of Gerontology article, "Perceived Control Mediates Effects of Socioeconomic Status and Chronic Stress on Physical Frailty: Findings from the Health and Retirement Study," which will be published in the publication’s upcoming print edition, is one of the first studies to investigate the effects of chronic stressors on physical frailty.
During his graduate study, Mooney also served as director of assessment at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry. He wrote his dissertation, titled “Perceived Control, Chronic Stress, and Geriatric Frailty: Explicating Frailty’s Psychosocial Etiology,” while completing his PhD in human development in educational contexts at the Warner School. Born and raised in Western New York, Mooney holds a bachelor’s in biology from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a master’s in environmental studies from Brown University, and a master’s in public health from the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry. 

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Tags: Andre Marquis, gerontology, human development, Kathryn Douthit, research