After a lifetime of working, child-rearing, relationships and lifestyle upkeep, retirement is akin to finally making the hike and reaching the city on a hill – Finally, you think, the stress is over.
But unfortunately, it’s not. Not even close, according to the Holmes-Rahe stress scale for elderly.
In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe pioneered the life-events-related stress scale after surveying 5,000 patients about life events and their illnesses. A numerical point system was developed that was attached to 43 life events, which found a positive relationship between the life events and purported illnesses. Further assessments by universities like Cornell have since validated the analysis.
Among the Top 5 stresses most likely to cause illness:
- Spousal Death
- Marital Separation
- Detention in Jail or Other Institution
- Death of a Close Family Member
The logic is simple with stress in elderly people: The older you are, the more of these experiences you’re likely to have endured – particularly the first and last in the abovementioned list. Another potential source of stress is the realization that we are living longer and healthier past the age of sixty five, so our needs for income are driving Baby Boomers over the age of 65 to re-enter the workforce in droves.
As discovered in a February 2013 study published by the Association for Psychological Science, emotional stress triggers the production of chemicals in the brain like cortisol, a steroid hormone that suppresses the immune system and helps regulate metabolism. The key, then, is being aware of senior stress and making older adults aware of how to manage this stress.
Signs of stress in seniors:
- Upset stomach. The stomach has a direct communication line with the nervous system, meaning mental anguish can cause digestion problems, constipation and nausea.
- Rashes. In line with the study linking stress triggering cortisol production in the brain, a suppressed immune system brings with it the inability to fight off basic flare-ups of staph that an older adult might otherwise be able to fight off.
- Twitching. No, it’s not just their extra cup of coffee – eyelid muscle spasms are one of the most noticeable and easy-to-spot signs of stress, elderly or not. Sometimes they last for a few minutes, and other times for a few days. The reason? Call it a mystery: Doctors still don’t know why.
- Depression. In 2008, the Center for Disease Control unearthed that the rate of suicide among Boomers increased by 20 percent – a sharp uptick compared to other age groups. Stress, if not reined in early, can culminate in depression – which, to be clear, can be devastating in older adults who don’t bounce back quite as quickly. Essential symptoms to look for here: Irritability, alcohol consumption, trouble sleeping and loss of appetite. And, of course, sadness.
Ways to Lessen Elderly Stress Levels
On the bright side, overcoming stress can be accomplished by older adults. For starters, monitor older adults’ sleep schedules and try to be sure they receive at least seven and a half hours of sleep each night.
In addition to restful sleep, a good diet is another way to reduce stress. Eating fewer fats and indulging in more bright-colored veggies can help.
Two and a half hours each week of cardio activity (with muscle training for at least two of these days) is another terrific way to keep stress at bay and stay fit, as well.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly), a supportive network of friends and family is essential to reducing stress levels in older adults. The easiest way to ward off stress is to have someone around who can point out that it’s there at all. Nothing is more valuable in illness prevention than a watchful and caring set of eyes.
How do you reduce your stress? Share your tips with us in the comments below!