Understanding the Harmful Effects of Stress in Elderly Seniors

According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2019 Stress in America survey, individuals across the country are linked by a common experience: feeling stressed. In response to the survey, more than 75% of adults in 2019 reported experiencing either emotional or physical symptoms of stress. At lower levels and frequencies, stress can be beneficial to certain aspects of a person’s well-being. But chronic stress? Not so much – especially for older adults.

As the body ages, it becomes less effective at accommodating the natural stress responses of the body. Add in the potential side effects of physical ailments or chronic diseases associated with aging, and it’s no surprise that stress can be hazardous both physically and emotionally for older adults. So how does stress affect the elderly? And more specifically, what are the harmful effects of stress? Read on to learn more about stress in older adults – causes, consequences and coping strategies to help your senior loved one manage their chronic stress.

What Causes Stress in Elderly Seniors?

The causes of stress can vary by individual, from work stressors, such as being unhappy in your job, to life stressors, such as divorce, moving to a new home, or even positive changes like getting married or having children. For older adults who are likely retired, common stressors often fall into the life stressor category and include things like:

  1. Experiencing the loss of a loved one. This can include losing a spouse, a family member, friends or even pets.
  2. Having too much free time. This may sound like the best part of retirement, but having too much free time with no structure can leave a person feeling as though they lack purpose. They no longer feel needed – whether at work, at home or in the community – and they don’t have anything in particular to give them a sense of direction.
  3. Experiencing changes in relationships. This can include many types of relationship changes, but particularly the changing relationship with a person’s children. As children grow older and start families of their own, they might find they have less time to spend with or take care of their older parents.
  4. Losing control of physical abilities. Whether your senior loved one is experiencing declining vision, hearing, balance or mobility, the loss of physical abilities can cause them to feel a loss of independence.
  5. Facing increasing health care costs due to declining health. As you age, it’s only natural that you’ll experience some changes in health. With that might come an increase in health care costs, especially if you develop a chronic disease associated with aging.

What Are 5 Negative Effects of Stress?

While some levels of stress are normal and manageable and can even be good for the body, chronic stress can negatively impact your aging loved one in many ways. Five serious negative effects of stress include:

  1. Depression or Anxiety – You might experience the headaches, back pain or rapid heartbeat associated with anxiety, or the feelings of sadness and hopelessness more commonly associated with depression.
  2. Digestive Issues – When stress triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, your stomach muscles contract, which can cause you to feel sick to your stomach. Stress can also lead to issues with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers.
  3. Weakened Immune System – Chronic stress has been proven to suppress the body’s immune system and lower your ability to fight off infection.
  4. Heart Problems – Because stress raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it can have a negative impact on the body by damaging artery walls. Additionally, when stressed, people often tend to decrease their levels of physical activity or they add unhealthy coping habits, such as overeating or alcohol use, which can negatively affect the heart.
  5. Dental Issues – Stress can cause dental issues for individuals of all ages due to teeth clenching and grinding; however, because aging causes seniors to be more susceptible to fractures and cavities, stress can exacerbate dental issues.

Learn the Signs and Symptoms of Stress in Elderly Seniors

So how do you know if your senior loved one is experiencing chronic stress? Some of the most common signs and symptoms of stress in elderly adults include:

  • Low energy or chronic fatigue
  • Issues with sleeplessness or insomnia
  • Changes in eating habits, possibly leading to weight gain or weight loss
  • Headaches or other aches and pains throughout the body
  • Short-term memory issues (unrelated to dementia) caused by overactive stress hormones in the brain
  • Experiencing withdrawal or isolation from others
  • Paying less attention to personal hygiene
  • Digestive issues
  • Changes in mood, including unusual elation or overexcitability

Stress Management for Seniors

If you’re concerned about your own stress levels, or those of a senior loved one, you might be wondering about how to reduce stress in older adults. A few options to lower chronic stress levels include:

  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Exercising regularly, including fitness routines focusing on the relaxation response, such as yoga
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Volunteering or getting involved in community events
  • Socializing with other seniors or with family and friends

Experience Relaxation at Oakley Courts

At Oakley Courts Assisted Living and Memory Care, our number one priority is to help you or your senior loved one live their best life – with NO stress! Our person-centered care focuses on providing assistance with the activities of daily living while still enabling you or your loved one to live as independently as possible.

We also offer a wide variety of social, activity and wellness programs designed for every interest, including daily fitness programs to help you relax and cope with issues of chronic stress. From live entertainment to community councils and guest speakers, there are numerous opportunities to get involved in our community.

Contact our Freeport, IL community today or call 815-233-5129 to schedule a tour. We look forward to helping you live life stress-free.