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Stress Management Series Part 1

Stoney Brook Stress Management Series


PART ONE: Understanding Why and How Stress Endangers Older Adults

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine your ideal retirement scenario. Is it filled with seemingly endless hours of worrying about every little thing? Of struggling with anxiety and the afflictions and rapidly accelerating aging that comes along with it? Likely not! Sadly, though, that’s precisely what many seniors encounter, rather than the relaxing life stage we have all dreamed about and deserve.


Whether for yourself or an older adult you know, those smile-soaked moments of savoring favorite people, places, and pastimes do await – once you understand the ins and outs of this often-overlooked topic – and most critically, how to prevent stress in seniors.


Welcome to the Stoney Brook Stress Management Series. Over the course of multiple articles, we’ll dive into:

  • The meaning of stress and the reason why we experience it

  • Why seniors are at greater risk of stress

  • The many causes and effects of stress in seniors

  • How to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of stress

  • Simple techniques that can reduce stress

  • Easy stress-relieving activities seniors can do

  • Steps caregivers and loved ones can take to decrease stress in seniors


We’ll start now by defining stress and outlining the broad range of risks, causes, and consequences of stress for older adults.


Defining “Stress” and Why It Strikes Humans

Stress is an entirely expected part of human life. Every person undergoes it at some point or another. As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), “Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.”


Interestingly, stress happens as a result of human evolution. Arising as a survival mechanism, it’s the very source of what the scientific community named the “fight-or-flight” response. WHO goes on to explain, “Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way we respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to our overall well-being.”


Older Adults Are More Susceptible to Stress and Stress-Related Threats

Although anyone of any age can anticipate stress as a fact of life, seniors encounter greater risk of chronic stress, which can, in turn, also inflict especially serious health and wellness implications for this at-risk population.


According to a prominent healthy aging expert and an Associate Director at the National Council on Aging, Jennifer Tripken, “the unique relationship between stress and aging means that older adults and their families, friends, and caregivers should pay particular attention to what causes it, how to recognize it, and what to do about it.”


Plus, bear in mind the interaction of hormones. When a brain feels stressed, it emits an “alarm” that releases potentially harmful hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Note that as we age, our brains could become less adept at regulating the levels of those hormones that can have damaging – and lasting – impacts.


We point to a HealthDay article that shows, “According to a report from the University of California at San Francisco, extra cortisol over the years can damage the hippocampus, a part of the brain that's crucial for storing and retrieving memories. Several studies have found that high cortisol goes hand in hand with poor memory, so we might be able to chalk up certain ‘senior moments’ to stress.”


Numerous Factors Can Cause Older Adults Stress

Many of us like to believe that when we’re older, we’re wiser, and we now possess the answers to all of life’s toughest questions. But seniority only brings a whole new set of challenges – and they’re the kind that can really keep you up at night.


No matter what the person’s background, senior stress levels can surge, due to circumstances including:

  • Life transitions

  • The onset of serious medical conditions

  • Managing health and/or multiple illnesses

  • Physical limitations

  • Chronic pain

  • Cognitive changes

  • Worries over finances and how to fund retirement

  • A move or other difficult changes to the daily routine

  • Strained relationships

  • Grief, loss of loved ones

  • A general sense of loss – of independence, mobility, youth, etc.


The list goes on, as there’s no shortage of stress-inducing situations that seniors encounter on a day-to-day basis. Every single one of them can be a trigger for physical and mental harm, which they are at a disadvantage to handle alone.


The Added Effects of Stress That Seniors Suffer

Stress can induce a vicious cycle, and if left unchecked, older adults experience particular vulnerability to its detrimental effects.


The American Institute of Stress indicates a tight connection between stress and inflammation. Stress stops the body from offsetting the specific types of inflammation that incite age-related conditions. When stress increases, so does the inflammation. When we suffer increased inflammation while stressed, health problems happen. Moreover, stress suppresses the immune response, resulting in seniors being still more susceptible to infections and other serious diseases than they already are.


Unmanaged stress can lead to or worsen a wide range of physical and mental issues, like:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Atherosclerosis (thickening or hardening of the arteries)

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Arthritis

  • Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other forms of memory loss

  • Slower response times and the corresponding inability to sense trouble and avoid accidents

  • Cancer

  • Decreased bone density

  • Loss of vision and hearing

  • A reduction in the effectiveness of certain vaccines, including those for the flu and pneumonia


If those aren’t enough reasons to defuse its awful effects, know that stress can actually speed up the aging process. And who wants that, when they finally found so much free time to unwind?


Even with all of this information to consider, we’ve only scratched the surface on senior stress. Follow our blog to guarantee you see the next installments of our Stress Management Series. You’ll find out how to identify stress in older adults, as well as a variety of vital ways to stop its dangerous effects.


Depend on Serene Senior Living Steered by an Expert Team

A knowledgeable leader in assisted living and memory care, Stoney Brook designed its Central Texas senior living communities to prevent daily stressors and ensure residents truly flourish. Through a fun, sociable environment, and ample, stimulating activities, you or your loved one can age well – and savor each day to its absolute fullest.


Schedule a complimentary visit to meet us in person and understand our relationship-centered approach firsthand. Plus, discover more from Stoney Brook’s free, insightful resources, all devoted to helping seniors and their caregivers. Subscribe to our blog.

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