Models of stress incorporate both the environmental demands experienced by individuals (stressors) and the appraisal of these life events (perceptions). Because little is known about the extent to which experience and perceptions are related, we examine this relationship in a nationally representative population of older Taiwanese adults.
Using growth models applied to data from 3 waves (1999, 2003, and 2007) of the Taiwan Longitudinal Study of Aging, we (a) investigate patterns of change in perceived stress in later adulthood and (b) examine how experienced stressors influence perceived stress. Participants were asked to report the presence of, and in some cases the degree of, exposure to stressors including total number of medical conditions, difficulty with activities of daily living, difficulty with mobility functions, being financially worse off compared with the prior wave, experiencing the death of a child, and experiencing a marital disruption. Items reflecting perceived stress included concerns about various domains pertaining to the respondent and his/her family member.
Our results indicate that exposure to stressors increases, whereas perceived stress decreases, over time. Change in exposure to stressors is not generally associated with change in perceptions of stress, with the exception of a summary measure of health-related exposure to stressors. An increase in poor health over time is related to an increase in perceived stress in all domains.