Social gerontology

Childhood adversities and home atmosphere may have long-term associations with physical and mental functioning among older persons. 

Childhood adversities have been linked to adverse health outcomes, but less is known about the long-term effects of childhood home atmosphere and adversities on health outcomes in later life. Using data from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study, including men and women who were born between 1934 and 1944, we found that having experienced several adversities in childhood such as parental divorce, chronic illness and unemployment was associated with poorer mental and physical functioning in old age. A more favourable childhood home atmosphere such as reported warm and supporting relationships was associated with better mental and physical functioning in old age.

In analyses including both childhood exposures, the association between childhood adversities and mental functioning was attenuated. These findings indicate that even if adversities are experienced in childhood, a more favourable home atmosphere may attenuate the negative association with functioning in older age. Socioeconomic status in childhood and adulthood, lifestyle or the presence of chronic diseases did not explain the association.

The fact that childhood adversities and family atmosphere are consistently related to functioning in old age is important, given that adequate physical and mental functioning in older age is vital for maintaining the capability to live independently and participate in the society.

Original article:

von Bonsdorff MB, Kokko K, Salonen M, von Bonsdorff ME, Poranen-Clark T, Alastalo H, Kajantie E, Osmond C, Eriksson JG. Association of childhood adversities and home atmosphere with functioning in old age: the Helsinki birth cohort study. Age Ageing 48: 80–86, 2019 (doi: 10.1002/ejp.1320).