The Effects of Stress on Seniors’ Mental Health

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The human body is hard-wired to react to stressful situations with a sudden increase of hormones. Known as the “flight or fight” response, this physical reaction helped our ancestors survive encounters that posed real threats to their lives. Although the stress response is still useful today in moments of real physical danger, long-term stress can lead to a variety of health issues for older adults, including depression and mental impairment.

Stress is one of many factors that can contribute to decreased mental and physical health in seniors. Not every senior has the same care needs, which means they don’t all need the same home care services. Families can rely on Assisting Hands Home Care to provide individualized care plans to meet their elderly loved one’s unique care needs. Our caregivers help seniors focus on healthy lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining strong social ties, and we offer mentally stimulating activities that can stave off cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia.

Stress & Seniors 

Stress responses in healthy young people typically don’t pose a danger to their overall wellbeing and may actually help them develop good life management skills. In seniors, though, chronic stress can lead to medical conditions that impact mental and physical health, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease – Studies dating back to 1956 show chronic stress increases blood pressure, raises the heart rate, and damages the arteries. Seniors with heart disease are more likely to experience depression than those with healthy cardiovascular systems.
  • Inflammation –Chronic stress increases the production of cytokines, inflammatory markers that generate symptoms associated with depression, including fatigue, poor appetite, and apathy. Cytokines are also connected to a higher instance of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Hippocampal atrophy – The stress hormone cortisol has been linked to hippocampal atrophy, which is a shrinking of the part of the brain connected with memory. The brain damage is associated with mental conditions like dementia.

Seniors who don’t manage their stress levels well could develop serious illnesses, making it a challenge to care for themselves on their own. If you’re the primary family caregiver for a senior loved one living in Arlington, elderly home care is available if your loved one’s health has become too difficult to manage without professional expertise. At Assisting Hands Home Care, we take measures to help seniors prevent illness and injury by assisting with exercise and mobility, preparing nutritious meals, helping with bathing and other personal hygiene tasks, and much more.

The Cycle of Stress

Because the emotions older adults experience when stressed are often linked to unpleasant situations, even a small stressor can trigger a disproportionate response, such as intense feelings of anxiety, anger, or hopelessness. Seniors may try to avoid situations that prompt these feelings by isolating themselves, which not only makes them more vulnerable to stress but can also lead to mental disorders like depression. Caregivers can break the cycle of stress by encouraging aging family members to learn and practice stress-reduction techniques.

Stress can result in mental, emotional, and physical challenges for aging adults, but they don’t have to manage them alone. Maintaining a high quality of life can be challenging for some seniors, but professional caregivers can help them attain this goal. Families can trust Arlington home care experts to help their elderly loved ones focus on lifestyle choices that increase the chances of living longer and healthier lives. Call Assisting Hands Home Care at 703-997-5657 to learn more about our flexible and customizable senior care plans.