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The What, Why & How of Stress in a Senior’s Life
Elizabeth Bemis

By: Elizabeth Bemis on January 13th, 2021

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The What, Why & How of Stress in a Senior’s Life

Independent Senior Living  |  senior living nutrition  |  senior living homes  |  Aging & Caregiving  |  dependent senior living

Stress doesn’t discriminate based on generation, and no matter what’s going on in a senior’s life, there’s potential for them to suffer from the physical and emotional effects of stress. Circumstances like illness, loss of a loved one, loss of independence, a strained relationship, a move or other difficult changes to their daily life could be major contributors to stress. Learning how to understand and identify that stress is critical to working through it or supporting the senior in your life as they experience it

Here, we’re providing expert information on how seniors are often impacted by stress, the physical toll it can take, the warning signs and effective ways to both manage and reduce it.  


The Role of Hormones in Senior Stress


There’s a distinct relationship between emotional and physical health, which is why stress can be so concerning for seniors. 


“At any age, stressed-out brains sound an alarm that releases potentially harmful hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline,” indicates a recent HealthDay article. “Overloads of stress hormones have been linked to many health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and weakened immune function. For older people already at heightened risk for these illnesses, managing stress is particularly important.”


As we age, our brains can actually become less adept at regulating hormone levels, which makes it particularly difficult for seniors experiencing immense anxiousness or worry to minimize the physical impacts. These hormones can have detrimental long-term impacts, even affecting vital mental health aspects like memory.


“According to a report from the University of California at San Francisco,” says HealthDay, “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.”


Signs & Symptoms of Senior Stress


The first step toward helping to manage stress is recognizing the warning signs that indicate an unhealthy amount of stress may exist. Of course, stress can present itself physically and behaviorally in a number of ways, but there are some key indicators to look for. 


According to Dr. Michelle Dossett, an internal and integrative medicine specialist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, here are some of the most common manifestations of stress that may interfere with a senior’s quality of life:


  • Tension headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Crying
  • Overeating


It is also important to note that restful and adequate sleep is necessary for the body to regulate and manage stress hormones. Therefore, if a senior is not getting proper sleep on a regular basis, it can worsen their experience and tolerance of stress, rendering it a much greater health risk. 


If you notice any of these or other concerning signs of stress in yourself or an aging loved one, it’s important to seek the guidance and care of a medical and/or psychological professional.

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Stress Management & Reduction for Seniors


If you or the senior in your life are looking for stress management methods to support better emotional and physical health, here are some senior-focused ideas to consider.


Meditation or Prayer Routine

There are many forms of meditation, and studies show that making it a regular practice can have profound effects on stress reduction and management, not to mention other positive impacts on mental, emotional and physical health. The great thing about meditation is that it doesn’t require any particular level of physical capability, nor does it necesitate any special equipment, setting or personal instruction. You can easily find some free guided meditations online or even create your own prayer or spiritual meditation. The important thing is to make it an ongoing practice to help minimize daily stress.  


Senior Yoga

Physical movement and exercise is also an ideal way to release stress hormones from your body, and yoga has become a popular activity for managing and reducing stress. Yoga spans a wide range of ability levels, and there are more and more opportunities geared specifically for seniors (including one of the newest forms, called “chair yoga”). A regular routine of stretching and deep breathing through proven yoga techniques can be an optimal way to combat stress. 


Cognitive Exercises

Scientists believe that certain stimulating activities may protect the brain by establishing a “cognitive reserve,” meaning they enable the brain to become more adaptable in some mental functions. This is true for the brain’s ability to regulate stress hormones and combat the effects of ongoing stress. To support yourself or your aging loved one in optimizing brain health and minimizing stress, it’s important to engage the mind with cognitive stimulation. Some of the most effective opportunities to introduce this kind of mental exercise into everyday life include activities like puzzles, trivia games, sudoku, crafts and hobbies, and other cognitive applications developed for computers and mobile devices. 


Social or Community Interaction

Companionship and social interaction definitely helps lower anxiety, so it’s critical to take advantage of opportunities for meaningful interactions with friends and loved ones. From simple phone conversations to shared meals and activities, there’s a distinct health benefit to this kind of connection. For that reason, among others, many seniors find that joining a senior living community provides them with the kind of interaction and stimulation needed to overcome the challenge of stress and enjoy their lives more fully. 


Of course, if stress is becoming an alarming or debilitating issue in your life or the life of a loved one, it’s paramount to seek professional medical advice and direction on the best treatment and techniques to stay healthy.

For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog. If you’re interested in learning more about United Methodist Homes senior living community, contact us today.

If you’re interested in learning how United Methodist Homes’ senior living community provides a wealth of offerings and opportunities to support the health of our residents’ minds and bodies, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now.


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About Elizabeth Bemis

In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.