Recent stress research by the American Psychological Association has found that anger maybe a factor in the development of chronic illnesses in older adults. According to the study, the anger experienced by older adults was linked to increased inflammation in the body, which can pave the way for a number of serious disease states, including the development of heart disease and arthritis.

“As most people age, they simply cannot do the activities they once did, or they may experience the loss of a spouse or a decline in their physical mobility and they can become angry,” said Meaghan A. Barlow, MA of Concordia University, lead author of the study, which was published in Psychology and Aging. “Our study showed that anger can lead to the development of chronic illnesses, whereas sadness did not.”

We often do not realise the important role inflammation plays in protecting our health. However, chronic inflammation has the opposite effect, causing damage that may lead to potentially life-long and even fatal health conditions. Chronic inflammation is associated with common conditions…cardiovascular disease, the development of cancer, arthritis, autoimmune issues, and others.

“Anger is an energizing emotion that can help motivate people to pursue life goals,” said Barlow. “Younger seniors may be able to use that anger as fuel to overcome life’s challenges and emerging age-related losses and that can keep them healthier. Anger becomes problematic for adults once they reach 80 years old, however, because that is when many experience irreversible losses and some of life’s pleasures fall out of reach.”

The study co-author Carsten Wrosch, PhD, also of Concordia University said, “Sadness, on the other hand, was not related to inflammation or chronic illness.”

“Sadness may help older seniors adjust to challenges such as age-related physical and cognitive declines because it can help them disengage from goals that are no longer attainable”, said Barlow.

“If we better understand which negative emotions are harmful, not harmful or even beneficial to older people, we can teach them how to cope with loss in a healthy way,” said Barlow. “This may help them let go of their anger.”

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