We all know that stress contributes to poor health, yet it can seem nearly impossible to control. Stress is especially risky for seniors. Although some may wonder how stress can increase during one’s retirement years, the fact is that isolation, loss of loved ones and illness can contribute to, and increase, stress. It can lead to sleeplessness, listlessness and a lack of appetite that impairs health and impedes recovery from illness and injury.
Fortunately, there are stress-control strategies that seniors and their caregivers can easily integrate into daily living. They can significantly improve a senior’s well-being and reduce their stress levels.
Stress is highly individual
At any age, what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. However, as our brains and bodies age, our levels of tolerance for events and issues change as well, increasing stress.
One study looked at the impact of stress on their health. It determined that increasing levels of stress are “independently associated with accelerated declines in cognitive function” in adults aged 65 and older. It also looked at the factors that create stress. The Perceived Stress Scale used a group of questions to assess stressors in the “last month, including:
- How often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?
- How often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?
- How often have you felt that confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?
- How often have you felt that things weren’t going your way?
- How often have you felt that you were on top of things?
- How often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?
These insights can be important in understanding the root causes of stress for some seniors.
Why is stress bad for seniors?
There is ample clinical and scientific information indicating why stress is bad for seniors. Here are a few of them.
- A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that in a group of healthy seniors, a stressful situation could create a “significant decrease” in “declarative memory performance and function” whereas a nonstressful condition did not impair those functions. The bottom line: stress can impair brain function and memory.
- A research study in Trends in Neurosciences found that “during aging, chronic stress may have devastating effects on the already vulnerable brain”. Researchers found that chronic stress alters brain plasticity, interrupts regulation of the immune system and increases the risk of developing brain disorders. In turn these can adversely affect cognitive and emotional functions. The bottom line: stress can impair the brain’s ability to function and its ability to regulate emotions.
- The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published a study that showed that although the brain is well designed to adapt to a wide variety of experiences, stress can actually change the brain’s architecture. When that happens it can alter its basic functions through the body’s “neuroendocrine, immune and metabolic systems”. The bottom line: when chronic stress alters brain function, it can have cumulative, adverse effects on the body. On the other hand, a healthy brain “has a considerable capacity for resilience” and can support better health.
3 Ways to Reduce Stress for Seniors
There are simple ways to reduce stress that can be implemented daily and easily adopted by the seniors themselves.
- The power of writing it down: Whatever the cause of a senior’s stress, encourage him or her to write it down. Once it is written down it can be acted upon. For example, seeing “I am lonely” in writing makes it easier to articulate to others and seek solutions. Without writing it down, the cause of the stress cannot become concrete and effective solutions cannot be found.
- Practice self-care: This may be a new concept for a senior who has spent his or her life working hard and raising a family. However, self-care can reduce stress and lead to new activities. Encourage your loved one to consider pursuing activities he or she finds interesting. It could be as simple as taking a painting class or walking inside the mall every day. It could be learning yoga or cake baking. No interest is too small. No effort is too tiny to reduce stress.
- Move: Exercise may be something that a senior has never pursued, but movement improves brain health and reduces stress. Any kind of movement is beneficial to the brain and the body; walking, chair yoga, riding a bike, or dancing. Participating in these activities with others increases socialization, which also reduces stress.
It can be difficult to convince a senior loved one to actively adopt strategies to reduce stress. You may have to participate in some activities with him or her to get the ball rolling. Given the power that stress has to significantly impair mental and physical health, reducing it is of the utmost importance, and just as important as effective medications and medical treatments.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.