The extent to which childhood adversity and recent stress influence all-cause mortality risk in older adults

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020 Jan:111:104492. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.104492. Epub 2019 Oct 24.


Background: Psychological stress is recognized as a major risk factor for a range of non-communicable diseases and possibly mortality. The extent to which the type and timing of stress exposure influences mortality, and potential differences between genders, remains unknown.

Objective: To examine the association between early-life and recent stressful experiences and mortality risk in later life, and to determine possible gender differences in these associations.

Method: Data were obtained from 2152 French community-dwelling participants (aged ≥65). Questionnaires were used to evaluate recent stress, as well as retrospective reporting of childhood adversity. Mortality status was determined through death registries. Adjusted Cox proportional hazards models were used to determine the association between stress and 16-year mortality risk.

Results: Over a mean 12.9 years, 850 people died. Having a childhood home environment with very serious conflicts was associated with a 54% increased mortality risk (95%CI:1.21-1.96), and childhood abuse/maltreatment with a 34% increased risk (95% CI:1.05-1.70). For females, specific childhood events (serious illness HR:1.91, 95%CI:1.40-2.60; war/natural disaster HR:1.47, 95%CI:1.14-1.88) and the number of events (≥5 adverse events HR:1.91, 95%CI:1.25-2.32), also increased mortality risk. In terms of recent events, mortality risk increased by 66% (95%CI:1.39-2.00) in participants reporting a recent serious illness or physical trauma and by 86% for those reporting problems with the police/justice (95%CI:1.05-3.30). Among males specifically, mortality risk also increased with major financial problems (HR:1.92, 95%CI:1.14-3.21), and when they had a relative with a serious illness (HR:1.26, 95%CI:1.01-1.55).

Conclusions: Stressful life experiences are associated with all-cause mortality however the associations varied between early-life adversities and recent stress, and were different across the genders. Among females, certain types of childhood adversity continue to predict mortality risk in later life, while in males specific recent stress significantly increased mortality risk.

Keywords: Early-life adversities; Gender-specific; Mortality; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / mortality*
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / mortality*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires