Does feeling old kill you?

The recent medical research excerpted below does report a slight effect of that nature but I am skeptical (as ever). The researchers did ask why people felt older but did not adequately address the possibility that many of those who felt older than their actual age might have had good medical reasons for that.  They may have felt older because they were in fact less well.  And it was their actual poorer health that killed them rather than feeling old.

The authors below did make a valiant attempt to examine that.  They measures eight indexes of physical health and allowed for their influence statistically. What they examined were major causes of death but  I was surprised that they failed to include blood pressure.  BP is a major factor for circulatory ailments and a lot of people do walk around with elevated BP.  And it seems to me that high BP might have a subtle influence on feelings of wellness and hence subjective age.

And that point can be extended to the observation that only KNOWN illness was controlled for. Many infections and viral illnesses can have adverse effects on wellness ranging from the very subtle to the gross -- with chronic fatigue syndrome being at the gross end.  So it seems to me likely that those who felt old did in fact have poorer health, but from many possible causes not picked up in the research.   Just being unfit, for instance, might make one feel old, and there are many claims that unfitness leads to premature death.

My suspicions about BP seem to be borne out by the fact that cardiovascular death was associated with feeling old but cancer was not.  There is of course a considerable association between BP and adverse cardiovascular events.


Feeling Old vs Being Old: Associations Between Self-perceived Age and Mortality

Isla Rippon & Andrew Steptoe

The crude mortality rate during the mean follow-up period of 99 months was 14.3% in participants who felt younger, 18.5% in those who felt about their actual age, and 24.6% in those who felt older (Table 1). Adjustment for covariates had pronounced effects on the associations between self-perceived age and mortality.

Nevertheless, when we combined the factors that were independently associated with mortality in models 1 through 8, feeling older than actual age remained a significant independent predictor of mortality (model 9: hazard ratio, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.10-1.82).

Results were similar after excluding deaths occurring within 12 months of baseline (Table 2).

Analyses of separate causes of death showed a strong relationship between self-perceived age and cardiovascular death, but no association between self-perceived age and cancer mortality (Table 2).


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