In the best of times, we know that stress can instigate and aggravate chronic disease. But in these times of crisis and isolation for some seniors, the affect that stress has on their health has become a real concern. How does stress affect illness, and how can we help our loved ones to de-stress and be healthier?
Over centuries, the human body learned to react to a threatening situation through a series of nerve and hormonal signals. The hypothalamus, a tiny area located at the brain’s base, tells your body that there is trouble, and your system subsequently directs the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol.
While meant to assist in survival, these days any type of stress can trigger this response. When adrenaline is released into the system, it elevates heart rate and blood pressure, which can be dangerous for those with heart or blood pressure problems. Cortisol, which is the most prevalent stress hormone, will elevate sugar levels in the bloodstream. More than this, however, cortisol can alter your immune system response, inhibit the digestive system, and confuse brain signals which control mood and fear. In a fight or flight situation, all of these responses are temporary once the situation is resolved. Therefore the blood pressure lowers, sugars return to normal, and the heart slows to a normal level.
However, when an individual is often stressed, the body lives in a state of heightened alertness, and these conditions can become chronic. Stress may be brought on by fear, isolation, loneliness or confusion. It is not uncommon for elderly people in assisted living or memory care to have these feelings, but in this unprecedented times, it is likely to be elevated. After all, many cannot see their loved ones, have visitors or even gather with their friends as they are accustomed to. Many of the group activities in adult residences have been cancelled or restricted.
Did You Know? While the personality of many people may be calm and easy going, others are thrown off by the slightest change. Knowing the overall personality can give you a good indicator of how they are likely handling the stress of the changes they have experienced. People living with varying degrees of dementia may be most vulnerable to stress brought on by unexpected circumstance and a change in routine.
When the stress response is never turned off, a senior citizen may experience anxiety or depression, digestive problems, sleep issues, weigh gain, memory problems, heart disease or headaches.
Assisted living professionals across the country are diligently working to help their residents cope with the stressors inherent in this situation. Helping their residents establish alternate communications with loved ones, setting up activities that are safe but engaging, and coming up with new ways to interact with their residents – workers are committed to make life as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.
Some other ways to manage stress and fight chronic disease include:
- Getting enough sleep, and establishing a sleep schedule
- Eating nutritious, healthy food
- Getting regular exercise, especially outside in sunlight if possible
- Engaging in yoga, massages, meditation or other relaxation techniques
- Identifying enjoyable hobbies such as listening to music, or doing arts and crafts
- Maintaining friendships safely and appropriately
- Seeking out professional help if necessary
If you have a loved one in assisted living and have been restricted in seeing them, reach out to the administrators. You can work together to come up with a plan to make sure that your loved one’s chronic disease in not being worsened by undue stress. Call A Banyan Residence in Venice for more information regarding our facility and policies during the COVID-19 crisis.