Too much stress can be bad for anyone, but safeguarding against the impact of stress for seniors is particularly important. Identifying signs of stress in seniors and taking action to reduce that stress can be critical to their mental, emotional, and physical health.
How Stress Affects Seniors
While frequent stress isn’t beneficial for anyone, it is particularly concerning for seniors. The root of the problem has to do with the functioning of seniors’ brains and immune systems.
As we age, our brain loses the ability to efficiently regulate stress hormones. The rise of stress hormones such as cortisol can eventually lead to severe health problems such as damage to the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for retrieving memories. And this kind of damage has been linked to stress-related memory loss in older populations.
Also, our immune system over time loses its defense mechanisms and is less efficient at fighting off stress-related illnesses such as increased inflammation. As a result, seniors are more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress such as heart problems, dental issues, and stomach problems, to name just a few.
Another thing to note is that seniors tend to have a harder time coping with stress than younger adults.
Unfortunately, there are stressful elements in the lives of most seniors that are hard to avoid. For example, while some seniors may be dealing with the stress of losing a close friend or family member, others may be taking on the stress of caregiving for a spouse while dealing with their own health problems.
The negative health implications of stress for seniors is clear, but the outlook does not have to be a bleak one. There are numerous steps seniors can take to reduce the impact of stress in their lives.
Signs of Stress in Seniors
The signs of stress in seniors are similar to those of people of all ages. The difference is that in senior populations, the signs may be misinterpreted as simply normal parts of aging.
This is a mistake, and when older adults begin to suffer from such symptoms, it is important to look to stress reduction as well as considering whether other conditions could be responsible.
Possible signs of stress in seniors can include:
- Insomnia or irregular sleeping patterns
- Feelings of helplessness
- Poor concentration
- Changes in appetite
It is important for family members, caregivers and seniors themselves to recognize that stress and depression are not just a normal part of aging. Stress and depression can cause confusion and memory loss that may look like the early stages of dementia.
Older adults may be less likely to talk openly about the stress they are experiencing. It is important to be alert to changes in the behavior of seniors and realize that stress could be at the root of those changes.
Tips for Stress Reduction in Seniors
The good news for seniors is that there are many avenues available for stress reduction. Below are some of the most effective.
Exercise can help with stress relief in people of all ages, and seniors are no exception. Exercise in seniors can be tailored to their ability. Some seniors may still be able to engage in more strenuous exercises, but there are also many modified exercise programs available for seniors at most levels of physical ability.
In addition to stress reduction, some types of exercise can offer specific physical benefits that are important to senior health. For example, yoga can improve balance, lower blood pressure, increase bone strength and help with blood circulation among many other benefits.
- Getting Involved
Senior isolation can be both a source and symptom of stress for seniors, but becoming involved in volunteer activities, church groups, activities offered at a senior center or engaging with people in other ways can significantly reduce that stress. Some colleges offer reduced or even free tuition for seniors.
Rather than seeing retirement and the senior years as a time to step back from involvement, seniors can take this opportunity to finally pursue interests they had to set aside in their working years.
- Therapy and Lifestyle Changes
Like people of all ages, seniors suffering from stress may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation and other approaches that focus on changing thought patterns.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting enough sleep can also be critical aspects of reducing stress.
- Getting Help
Some seniors may still wish to remain in their home but may need help with some tasks such as household chores, yard work or grocery shopping and meal preparation. Struggling with these tasks can be a source of stress. There may be programs in your community specifically geared toward seniors that offer these services.
Stress and the problems it causes for seniors are not an inevitable part of aging. By recognizing and addressing the signs of stress in seniors, caregivers and seniors can take steps to ensure that these years are as full and rewarding as the ones that preceded them.
Author Bio: Christian Worstell is a health and lifestyle writer living in Raleigh, NC.