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How Stress Affects Mental Health Among Elderly

By Mary-Frances Walsh, 8:00 am on

The human body is hard-wired to react to stressful situations with a sudden increase of hormones. Known as the “flight or fight syndrome,” 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 and Seniors

Stress responses in healthy young people typically don’t pose a danger to their overall wellbeing and may actually help them develop good coping skills. In seniors, however, leading Sonoma senior home care experts emphasize that 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 a healthy cardiovascular system.
  • 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.

The Cycle of Stress

Because the emotions that 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 may prompt these feelings by isolating themselves, which not only makes them more vulnerable to stress but can lead to mental disorders like depression as well. Caregivers can help break the cycle of stress by encouraging aging family members to learn and practice stress-reduction techniques.

For some seniors, stress results from feeling isolated, anxious, or lonely. You can help your loved one mitigate these factors with help from Home Care Assistance in Sonoma. A trained and compassionate caregiver can provide companionship, emotional support, and help your loved one maintain feelings of purpose through our Balanced Care Method. Find out more by calling a friendly Care Manager at (707) 843.4368.