When we think about life in older age, many of us imagine days of leisure and simplicity whiled away with few responsibilities and stresses.
We have a tendency to think about the later stages of life, during which things seem to be winding down, as pretty much void of stress, but the reality is that there are numerous aspects of life for seniors that can be incredibly stressful and hard to deal with without multiple types of support. Along with the normal stresses of life that carry through to older age, seniors also face hardships related to health concerns, loss of friends, family, or social circles, reduced levels of independence, and other aspects of older age that can cause intense 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 acknowledge the stress that seniors may be facing, as well as the negative impacts that can result if feelings of stress go unaddressed.
What Stress Does
On top of the typical worries and feelings of unease that stress can cause, prolonged stress also has the ability to have significant impacts 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 other health concerns, such as:
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Weakened Immune System
Seniors are at an elevated risk of facing the negative effects that can come as a result of stress hormones because the body becomes less efficient at regulating hormones in older age.
The ways in which stress is experienced is different for every person, which means it can be hard to identify and address if seniors don’t bring up the subject or start a conversation themselves. There are, however, some consistent 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 higher levels of stress, but it is important to note that they might also be attributable to other issues such as depression or other mental or physical health problems, so it is always best to talk to a healthcare professional when concerns pop up in order to build a better understanding of the circumstances.
Making Things Better
The unfortunate reality is that, in many cases, the causes of stress cannot be entirely avoided and, therefore, neither can the difficulties and emotions that come as a result. There are, however, some strategies that can help seniors to increase their capacity to deal with the stress in their lives and lessen the effects that stress has day-to-day.
- Be Social: Stress is often amplified by feelings of isolation or loneliness, so ensuring 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 intensely challenging to deal with and can often feel unescapable, but it is important to engage in behaviours and practices aimed to help seniors with keeping on top of the levels of stress that they experience, because the harmful health effects can be truly damaging. Incorporating some purposeful strategies and keeping aware of possible indicators of stress as they come to light can help allow the seniors of Ottawa to stay in a positive state of mind and enjoy the day-to-day elements of their lives.