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The Winchester Journal

Stress and Seniors: What’s the Connection?

Healthy Aging | 10/24/18


Over the years, our bodies and minds deal with a lot. Our bodies are built to be strong and resilient, but it’s true that aging reduces our body’s ability to cope with stress.

Unfortunately, seniors already have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, or dementia. But when you add mental and emotional stress to the mix, it can leave you even more vulnerable.

The Impact of Stress on Seniors

There are multiple ways that stress impacts the whole-person wellness of seniors. As we get older, coping with stress isn’t as easy as it used to be, and here are some of the effects:

Short-term memory problems

You know that aging increases the risk of cognitive and mental function, but stress hormones in the brain can also affect memory in a way that’s unrelated to dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other aging-related memory loss.

Sleep problems

Plenty of rest is essential for good health, especially as we age. Plus, restorative sleep helps to wash stress hormones away in our brains. It’s not unusual, however, for seniors to have trouble getting quality sleep, and risk of sleep disorders increases with age.

Trouble concentrating or making decisions

Just like stress disrupts the brain’s ability to retrieve short-term memories, it also disrupts the brain’s ability to focus. Stressed out seniors often have shorter attention spans and are more indecisive than those who are stress-free. If this sounds like someone you know, discourage them from making major life-changing decisions when they’re stressed.

Risk of dangerous health problems rises

Research shows that even minor stress can have a long-term impact on the body. Sudden emotional stresses (such as anger) can trigger life-threatening conditions like heart attacks and arrhythmia’s. This is more likely to happen in those with existing chronic conditions, like someone who already has heart disease.

Depression and anxiety

Feeling stressed every once in awhile is normal and generally not harmful. But when stress occurs routinely and your body is continuously in “fight or flight” mode, people can develop ongoing depression and anxiety. The body is not meant to experience stress for long periods of time.

Weakened immune system

Think about what makes a strong immune system: plenty of quality sleep, normal blood pressure, a nutritious diet, daily exercise, etc. Stress can impact all of these areas, so it makes sense that chronic stress can weaken the immune system and make seniors more susceptible to illnesses like the common cold, flu, or others.

Stress Reduction Tips for Seniors

Sometimes stress is inevitable. But long-term stress can be avoided. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Understand your triggers. Identify what stresses you out and try to avoid it.
  • Lean on friends or family. Having a strong support group is crucial to deal with stress in a healthy way. Take ten minutes to vent about your stress, then talk about solutions to reduce it.
  • Rest your mind. Accept that when you’re stressed, you’re going to need more rest.
  • Physical activity is perfect to help you work off steam when you’re stressed, angry, or anxious.
  • Get help. Reach out to a psychologist or other medical professional if you feel your stress is getting out of hand.

Living in a stress-free environment and surrounding yourself with like-minded people is a perfect way to eliminate unnecessary burdens from your life. Continuing care retirement communities offer that environment. Let those of us at Winchester Gardens answer your questions about senior living. Contact us today to schedule a tour or request more information.