As humans, we all face challenges in life. But as we age, some of these challenges like financial concerns, caretaking demands, cognitive changes, and medical conditions become particularly stressful.
Stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol into the bloodstream, which then escalates our heartbeat. Every now and then, this momentary fight or flight response may not cause long-term harm.
However, continuously living in a stressful environment leads to chronic stress. The problem with that is stress weakens your immune system, says the American Psychological Association. This is when an intervention becomes inevitable.
Hence, this blog post sheds light on stress management for the elderly in the form of five actionable tips.
But before that, we would like to cover the signs of stress in older adults. By recognizing these signs, you can take the first step towards improving the state of mental and physical health in seniors.
Signs That Your Elderly Loved One is Stressed
The thing about stress is – we get used to it. This is why most signs often go unnoticed. At times, the situation that triggers anxiety is unavoidable or familiar. It’s important to understand here that we cannot avoid the triggers all the time. Not everything is under our control.
What is in our power, though, is the management. When you also familiarize yourself with the state of relaxation, you can cope with it successfully. If you are a caregiver, try to observe the seniors whether they are displaying any erratic behaviour.
Listed below are the common signs of stress in older adults you can look for:
- Low energy and fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight loss or gain
- More aches in different parts of the body
- Unusual patterns of judgment
- Difficulties with concentration
- Frequent sickness
- Less attention to self-care
- Trouble recalling short-term memory
- Changes in eating habits and patterns
- Isolation and withdrawal
- Changes in mood including sadness, anxiety, and irritability
This is not an exhaustive list. Stress can manifest itself in unique ways in different individuals. Family and friends are the only people who can genuinely tell that something’s not right.
If you notice many of these above-listed signs of stress in older adults, your doctor may guide you based on the senior’s medical condition. Taking care of your own mental and physical health also sets an excellent example for the elderly.
Luckily, there are some methods of stress management in the elderly you can look into. This brings us to our next section:
How to Reduce Stress in Older Adults?
Listed below are the 5 methods of stress management in the elderly:
1. A shift in Perspective
It’s challenging to look at things objectively when you’re the one experiencing a stressful situation. This is where the role of a caregiver comes into play.
Friends, family, professional caregivers, therapists, or counsellors can help the elderly zoom out and observe the situation as something that’s just passing through instead of being a prisoner in it.
Though they may already know it, this technique is challenging to implement without help. Stress and coping in older adults is all about resuming control over life rather than letting pressure be in the driver’s seat.
It allows them to take action towards solving the problem rather than sinking deep into it. If you and your elderly family member can work towards identifying the source of stress, it may help eliminate it.
Here are other techniques of managing stress in older adults:
2. Mindfulness Meditation
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation may lower mental stress levels and anxiety. Not only does it equip you with the right method of dealing with the current taxing situation but it also increases your immunity to fight future stressors.
With regular meditation, you won’t get triggered as much. Seniors can greatly benefit from it since practicing it doesn’t require any physical ability or special equipment. Besides, they can meditate in different settings as they prefer.
What mindfulness means is learning to be in the present moment. Often, the worries are not caused by the present circumstances but by constantly thinking about what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. Our mind has the tendency to wander.
Begin by acknowledging your thoughts and feelings. Shift your attention towards your senses and breathing. If needed, you can try plenty of guided meditation techniques available online.
That way, when you (or your aging loved one) find yourself on the train of thought, the voice of the instructor would bring them back into the present moment. Most people with a busy mind find guided mindfulness meditation very helpful.
Any form of exercise that the seniors can manage will work wonders for their mental and physical health. The “feel-good” factor that one feels after a brisk walk or moderate cycling is like none other.
Not to mention the fact that it improves the overall longevity, bone density, and lung capacity. Exercise reduces cortisol levels. Even light aerobic exercises can help maintain the cognitive health of older adults.
On average, seniors should walk for at least 30 minutes every day. And if not daily, then thrice a week. The hippocampus, the memory and learning centre of the brain, actually functions well when we are physically active.
Even so, if you or your aging family member are suffering from a chronic condition, it’s best to consult a doctor before making any changes to your exercise routine.
4. A Sense of Belonging
Human beings are social creatures. Irrespective of whether a person is an extrovert or introvert, everybody needs (or likes) to hang out with like-minded individuals once in a while. Therefore, when it comes to managing stress in older adults, socializing is key.
Especially in the case of seniors, they tend to isolate themselves due to a gradual decline in hearing, vision, and acuity. But that may push them into depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Isolation is what seniors should not do when they experience these things.
Instead, warm relationships, sense of belonging in a community keep them cheerful despite what they have been growing through. It bodes well for alleviating stress and increasing happiness.
5. Nutritionally Dense Foods
Did you know that foods lacking nutritional density are everyday stressors? This is true for any age group, but seniors must be more careful with their diets. What you should stay away from specifically are refined carbs, sugary snacks, and potato chips.
Eating foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals is vital for stress management for the elderly. It’s tough to avoid fast food when you see a restaurant at every intersection. But what it causes is obesity and chronic pain.
In general, a diet that is high in protein and good fat but low in carbs is considered good. Make sure you eat an abundance of salads, eggs, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and meat. Perhaps, the greatest takeaway from this section is – avoid sugar.
We crave it because it’s easy energy. But white sugar is the root cause of disease, diabetes, obesity, and even death. There are plenty of good alternatives you can try. Honey and jaggery are much healthier and actually benefit you and your loved one.
Using these 5 tips, seniors can lower their stress levels, enjoy their lives, and live well!