Community Blog

Seniors Under Stress Suffer Physically, Mentally and Emotionally

By Debbie Humphrey

I generally have a very cool temperament, yet stress is something that even I experience on a regular basis.  Personal and professional issues crop-up seemingly every day, and I do my best to work through the matters with rational solutions to reduce the impact of stress on my life.

One thing I’ve noticed as a caregiver – and heard from the caregivers I employ – is that seniors under stress frequently experience physical, mental and emotional consequences that cause or exacerbate negative health concerns.

We all slow down a little more as we grow older, but it’s not always welcome. Physical limitations are common stressors for aging adults. We can’t do all the things we used to do, and that’s not easy to accept.

More often than not, seniors want desperately to remain independent in their own homes for as long as possible. However, when health concerns arise, it may not be an option. Thoughts of requiring in-home care or moving to an assisted living community or a nursing home certainly increases stress levels in seniors.

Financial challenges stoke stress in seniors. My own mother recently exhibited increased emotional distress after having examined her bank and credit accounts, inexplicably concerned about what she wouldn’t be able to leave my sister and me. My sister secretly explained how Mom had called her in tears as she struggled to figure out the best way to overcome the situation. My sister, a compassionate daughter and attorney, listened to Mom and they discussed the most reasonable solution to alleviate the stress our 74 year-old Mother was enduring, not the least of which was worrying about her estate. Thankfully, everything worked out, and Mom is happier and healthier now without the mental and emotional anguish she had endured for so long alone.

Speaking of being alone, loneliness and isolation causes stress for seniors. When someone loses their life’s partner, best friend, family member or pet, it may take a great deal of time to process the loss and the grief. Life changes for us the instant someone’s death occurs, and it can cause chronic stress for seniors who now must learn a “new normal” without their loved one. Additionally, it forces us to look at our own mortality which can be highly stressful as we age, depending upon our individual belief systems and spiritual foundation.

Seniors who lack a sense of purpose can feel stressed-out. Many times, mature retired adults will come out of retirement to have something to do and feel productive. We all want to feel loved and needed, and that’s no different for seniors, especially those who live alone. Having a purpose helps us rise each morning and attack each day with more optimism and joy!

It is easy to recognize when seniors are suffering from chronic stress. There are specific signs and symptoms that are tale-tell to the impact stress is having on one’s mind and body:

  • Excessive Worrying
  • Frequent Crying
  • Negative Attitudes
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Feeling Out of Control
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Constipation or Diarrhea

If you notice these signs and symptoms of chronic stress in special seniors in your life, make sure they are getting regular exams by their doctor or primary care provider to observe changes in health conditions that present with extreme stress.

For example, stress is known to suppress a body’s immune response, and because seniors tend to internalize their stress to “protect” their loved ones, they are more likely to become ill. Considering how health typically changes for the worse as we age, seniors usually have declining immune systems, allowing illness to more easily set-in and linger.

Heart conditions are another concern for seniors under stress. The body’s response to stress involves the release of extra adrenaline and cortisol, and it also causes blood pressure and heart rates to rise. This stresses the heart causing it to work harder, not smarter. Complicating factors that are also associated with heart disease and seniors dealing with stress include smoking, drinking, drug use, and overeating.

Moreover, with increased levels of adrenaline in the body due to chronic stress, blood vessels constrict, which can reduce vision and hearing in seniors.

When I’m under inordinate amounts of stress, I usually feel it in my gut. I get a sick feeling in my stomach in terms of nausea or heartburn. As the central nervous system reduces blood flow to the digestive tract when we’re under stress, it also decreases the production of normal digestive juices, causing the digestive muscles to contract, conversely causing the sick feeling. Extreme cases of chronic stress can lead to more serious digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome or painful ulcers.

There are a number of ways we can all manage stress and lead healthier, happier lives as we age:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Exercise several times a week
  • Volunteer for a cause you support
  • Get involved in your community
  • Discover ways to cope with stress like meditation, yoga, water aerobics, etc
  • Shift your focus to those things you can control

 If you or a senior you know is demonstrating signs and symptoms of chronic stress, we can help. Home Helpers® provides transportation assistance to doctor appointments, community events, social activities and volunteer opportunities; companionship for those living alone; as well as healthy meal preparation and light housekeeping for those who can’t do as much for themselves anymore. I am happy to offer a FREE Consultation to discuss a personalized care plan to help reduce your loved one’s stress and increase their quality of life!

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award for 2017, 2018 & 2019. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠  727.942.2539

Sources:

6 Effects of Stress On Older Adults

Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes