How Chronic Stress Affects Mental Health

By Pete Lane, 9:00 am on

The body’s response to stress developed as a way to help people survive short periods of imminent danger. Faced with a threat, the body releases hormones and neurotransmitters that prepare the body to survive. Acute stress causes the pulse to speed up, respiration to increase, brain activity to increase, and muscles to tense, all of which can actually improve health in the short term. However, chronic stress can significantly impact a senior’s mental and emotional health.

Chronic Stress in Seniors
Significant life changes during the senior years, including retirement, the passing of friends and family, worries over finances, health problems, loss of independence, and social isolation, can all cause chronic stress for those over 65.

Constant exposure to chemical signals during periods of stress can have a debilitating effect on the body. Chronic stress suppresses the immune system, disrupts the digestive system, and adversely affects the circulatory system and heart. Chronic stress also affects the brain and memory.

Anxiety and Mood Disorders
According to studies read by leading home care providers in Centennial, seniors exposed to chronic stress actually experience a remodeling of the brain’s structure. The changes seem to promote feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry, making it harder for a stressed senior to calm down and relax. These altered brain pathways can lead to the development of anxiety disorders and other mood disorders such as depression.

Depression
In seniors, chronic stress is often linked to the development of depression. Many seniors suffering from depression present with atypical symptoms, and most seniors do not report feeling sad or depressed. Instead, seniors tend to report symptoms such as lack of motivation, lack of energy, and physical complaints such as pain. Depression in seniors can also lead to memory and cognitive problems, neglect of personal care, and withdrawal from social interactions.

Sleep Disorders
The elderly often experience changes in sleep patterns as they get older, sleeping less and lighter. Chronic stress can seriously exacerbate difficulties sleeping, and sleep deprivation can lead to serious health concerns including anxiety, memory problems, and difficulty focusing. Sleeplessness can also increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and excessive daytime sleepiness can lead to car crashes and other dangerous accidents.

Learn more about promoting mental health and wellness from the dedicated staff at Home Care Assistance. As a leading provider of hourly and live-in care, as well as specialized Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia care in Centennial, changing the way our senior population ages is a top priority. Through our Balanced Care Program, we promote a healthy diet, daily exercise, and help seniors maintain a sense of calm and purpose with unwavering companionship and emotional support. For more information, call a friendly Care Manager today at 303.957.3100 and schedule an in-home consultation.

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