The Effect of Physical Limitations on Depressive Symptoms over the Life Course: Is Optimism a Protective Buffer?

TitleThe Effect of Physical Limitations on Depressive Symptoms over the Life Course: Is Optimism a Protective Buffer?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsChoi, SL, Namkung, EHa, Carr, D
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology, Series B
ISSN Number1758-5368
KeywordsDepressive symptoms, Disability, Functional Limitation, life course, Optimism, Stress

OBJECTIVES: We examined the extent to which optimism buffers the effects of physical limitations on depressive symptoms, across four mid- and later-life age groups (ages 40-49, 50-64, 65-74, 75+ at baseline). Analyses are motivated by stress theories, which hold that the protective effects of coping resources are evidenced only at high levels of stress. We further explore whether these purportedly protective effects diminish with age, as health-related stressor(s) intensify and become irreversible.

METHODS: We use data from two waves (2004-06 and 2013-14) of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS, n = 4,515) and Midlife in the United States (MIDUS, n = 2,138). We estimate OLS regression models with three-way interaction terms to examine prospectively the benefits of optimism as a coping resource for persons with physical limitations across four age groups. Physical limitations are assessed with a composite measure encompassing mobility and activity of daily living (ADL) limitations.

RESULTS: In HRS and MIDUS, persons with 3+ limitations reported significantly more depressive symptoms than persons with 0-2 limitations, yet these disparities diminished at higher levels of optimism. Buffering effects of optimism vary by age. For midlife and young-old persons with 3+ limitations, optimism is strongly and inversely related to depressive symptoms at follow-up. Comparable protective effects are not evident among oldest sample members.

DISCUSSION: Stress and coping models should consider more fully factors that limit older adults' capacity to deploy purportedly protective personal resources. Investments in structural or institutional supports may be more effective than interventions to enhance positive thinking.

Citation Key12294
PubMed ID35385583