Upon thinking about the stage of life in which seniors find themselves, we may find ourselves imagining calm and relaxing days filled with leisure time and free of overwhelming responsibilities.
We tend to think about the later stages of life, during which things tend to be winding down, as pretty much free of stress, but the truth is that there are many features of senior life that can be stressful and difficult to manage without support. On top of the everyday stresses of life that still exist in older age, seniors also face challenges related to health concerns, loss of friends, family, or social circles, reduced levels of independence, and other typical features of older age that can cause immense feelings of stress. In an attempt to help seniors care for both their physical and mental health, it is important that loved-ones and caregivers understand the stresses that seniors may be facing, as well as the negative impacts that can come as a result if feelings of stress remain unaddressed and unattended.
What Stress Does
In addition to the general anxiousness and feelings of unease that stress can cause, prolonged stress also has the capacity to have meaningful effects upon the health of the physical body.
Stress causes the body to release cortisol, which is a hormone that has been proven to negatively impact the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, the functioning of which is imperative for the storing and recalling of memories. Not only can an increase in stress hormones impact memory, it can also result in numerous other health concerns, such as:
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Weakened Immune System
Seniors are at an even greater risk of experiencing the negative effects that can come as a result of stress hormones because the body becomes less efficient at regulating hormones as it grows older.
The ways in which stress is experienced and manifested differs from person to person, which means it can be challenging to identify and address if seniors don’t bring up the subject or open a dialogue themselves. There are, however, some reliable signs or symptoms that we can look out for as our senior loved ones go through the changes that take place as they grow older.
- Changes in Eating Habits
- Loss of Interest in Activities
- Mood Swings
- More Frequent Colds or Flus
- Sleeping Troubles
Many of these behaviours accompany greater levels of stress, but it is relevant to note that they might also be attributable to other concerns such as depression or other mental or physical health problems, so it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional when worries arises in order to establish a well-informed understanding of the situation.
Making Things Better
The unfortunate reality is that, in the greater proportion of cases, the causes of stress cannot be entirely avoided and, therefore, neither can the challenges and feelings that come as a result. There are, however, some tools and strategies that can help seniors to reduce or increase their ability to manage the stress in their lives and minimize the effect that stress has day-to-day.
- Be Social: Stress is often amplified by feelings of isolation or loneliness, so making sure that seniors create enough opportunities to interact with friends, family, loved ones, or peers in a social setting can help them to decrease the level of stress they experience by increasing their feelings of belonging and involvement. Knowing that they have meaningful social connections can also help seniors to feel they have a stronger support system to help them deal with stress as it arises.
- Stay Active: Physical activity in one form or another, particularly when accompanied by fresh air, has been proven to reduce stress. While seniors’ mobility levels may vary, there is always a way to integrate some movement into the day through walking, stretching, or just getting outside, and each of these can help to reduce stress.
- Create Positive Space: The way we feel is often largely affected by the physical surroundings in which we find ourselves. Creating a physical space that is clean, tidy, and free of clutter can not only make us feel in control of the environment, but can also help us to feel more in control in general and, therefore, less stressed overall. Similarly, soothing or pleasant accents to rooms can help seniors to find peace and calm in their surroundings when they are overcome by stress, so adding nice decorations, plants, or other personal touches can help seniors to self-soothe through their environment when they are stressed.
Stress can be incredibly difficult to manage and can often feel unescapable, but it is important to pursue practices aimed to help seniors with managing and minimizing the levels of stress that they experience, because the harmful health effects can be truly damaging. Integrating some purposeful strategies and remaining attentive to possible indicators of stress as they appear can help allow the seniors of Edmonton to remain in a positive state of mind and enjoy their daily lives.