Background: Psychosocial stress has been associated with an increased risk for mental and somatic health problems across the life span. Some studies in younger adults linked this to accelerated cellular aging, indexed by shortened telomere length (TL). In older adults, the impact of psychosocial stress on TL may be different due to the lifetime exposure to competing causes of TL-shortening. This study aims to assess whether early and recent psychosocial stressors (childhood abuse, childhood adverse events, recent negative life events, and loneliness) were associated with TL in older adults.
Methods: Data were from the Netherlands Study of Depression in Older Persons (NESDO) in which psychosocial stressors were measured in 496 persons aged 60 and older (mean age 70.6 (SD 7.4) years) during a face-to-face interview. Leukocyte TL was determined using fasting blood samples by performing quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and was expressed in base pairs (bp).
Results: Multiple regression analyses, adjusted for age, sex, and chronic diseases, showed that childhood abuse, recent negative life events and loneliness were unrelated to TL. Only having experienced any childhood adverse event was weakly but significantly negatively associated with TL.
Conclusions: Our findings did not consistently confirm our hypothesis that psychosocial stress is associated with shorter TL in older adults. Healthy survivorship or other TL-damaging factors such as somatic health problems seem to dominate a potential effect of psychosocial stress on TL in older adults.
Keywords: cellular aging; childhood abuse; loneliness; negative life events; psychosocial stress; telomere length; telomere shortening.