In recent years, research and studies have shown various pieces of evidence of the link between stress and dementia, disclosing that seniors overburdened with stress may be more vulnerable to dementia and other neurodegenerative issues.
So are stress and dementia related? What role might stress play in the development of dementia in seniors? Continue reading to discover the basics of stress and dementia and some stress management tips for your parents.
Dive Deeper Into the Relationship Between Stress and Dementia and Some Stress Relief Tips for Seniors
Stress is a normal feeling, and we all experience it at some point. Stress is characterized by a host of bodily responses — both mental and physical — when the body is under attack or faces dangers in certain circumstances. In other words, this natural reaction primarily urges a person’s nervous system to respond as quickly as possible in a flight-or-fight situation.
At its core, the unique stress mechanism is considered a helpful factor that assists the body in dealing with challenges and new situations. There is good and bad stress, and the good kind of stress can goad the body for the better by prepping it to escape or seek solutions during dangerous and potentially harmful situations. Other unexpected benefits of stress include boosting brain power, increasing the immune system, enhancing mental toughness, and improving cognitive functions.
Despite bringing many benefits, chronic stress can be detrimental to overall health and wellness, especially for seniors undergoing significant health changes.
Why Are Seniors Stressed Out?
Everyone experiences some level of stress. In fact, we all face different stressors throughout varying phases of life. For instance, childhood stress comes from fear of being bullied or failing parents’ expectations. In contrast, young adults tend to struggle with life obligations like making ends meet, finding a job, starting a family, etc.
While numerous people assume that the retirement period gives retirees opportunities to step back from life hardships and enjoy new experiences, having too much on their plate can be stressful. Events that come with later age heighten their risk of stress or becoming distressed more frequently later in life.
Some common situations that might increase stress in seniors include:
- Loss of their spouse, friends, or relatives
- Loss of independence
- Recurring physical pain or discomfort
- Moving their residency
- Declining physical and cognitive abilities
- Concerns about financial security
- Increased feelings of isolation or loneliness
- Negligence from caregivers
Stress, Mental Health, Dementia: Understanding the Correlation
Before diving deeper into the correlation between stress and dementia, it is crucial to clarify that dementia is not a single condition but rather an umbrella term to describe a group of cognitive impairments, such as short-term memory loss, loss of language and logical reasoning, etc.
In contrast to popular belief, dementia is not a normal part of aging. It can adversely accelerate to the point where it sabotages seniors’ social life and prevents them from managing their daily lives without the help of caregivers. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 55 million people are affected by dementia worldwide. Alzheimer’s is the most well-known form of dementia, alongside Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia.
So can stress cause dementia? And what does science have to say about the connection between stress and dementia?
Since each person experiences stress differently, and there is no established technique to determine how stressed someone might be, it is impossible to illustrate the impact of stress on dementia. However, some strong evidence has shed light on the causative role of prolonged stress in the development of dementia in seniors.
More specifically, the body is known to release cortisol when stressed out. This in-body toxin at consistently high levels has been associated with brain dysfunction and memory impairment. Although there is little research linking the two, persistent stress without prompt interventions is believed to be the primary contributor to depression and anxiety, hence the increased risk of dementia. The weakened immune system caused by stress also likely emphasizes the role of stress in dementia development, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
On top of that, another piece of evidence that further proves their connections is that people under stress display similar symptoms to dementia patients. These symptoms include forgetfulness, disorientation, extreme mood swings, personality changes, and difficulties in learning new things and making decisions.
Overall, stress may play a role in dementia development, but it doesn’t necessarily cause dementia. Regardless, stress is not the only risk factor behind dementia.
The likelihood of developing dementia largely depends on genetics, illnesses, behavior, modifiable lifestyle, and environmental factors throughout various stages of life.
Tips to Cope with Stress for Seniors
Although some stress is unavoidable, frequent and excessive stress can take a toll on seniors since the body’s natural reaction tends to cause a surge in heart rate and blood pressure.
These physical changes may seem insignificant to younger adults, but they can create lasting effects on seniors, making them prone to various health problems such as frequent headaches, insomnia, physical and mental fatigue, stomach upset, and a change in appetite. In some cases, too much stress in seniors can manifest a higher risk of heart disease.
Looking for the best stress relief tips for your parents and elderly family members? Here are some general tips your parents can try to manage their stress and put their minds at greater ease, as recommended by Harvard Special Report on Stress Management.
- Stay active: Exercising and engaging in physical activities, whether light or extreme, have been proven to enhance a person’s mood aside from boosting their physical strength and endurance. Check out some exercises and sports activities made friendly for seniors here.
- Ask for support: Grief over losing a spouse, friend, or relative can stress many seniors. Encouraging your surviving parent to join a support group could positively impact them if they need help finding a way out of their bereavement.
- Consider a pet: A pet like a cat or a dog can help to reduce your parents’ loneliness and increase their social interaction when taking them on a walk. However, pet ownership is likely a lifetime commitment, so make sure to sort out the pros and cons before adding a new companion to your parents’ life.
- Attend mind-body classes: Some programs are designed for seniors to pursue a healthier lifestyle through enhanced mental wellness and body awareness. It also helps seniors to find relief in chronic pain like back pain.
- Be vocal: Talking with a trusted friend or counselor is a practical way to handle stress. Therefore, encourage your parents to vent their thoughts and feelings if they are stressed.
Keep Stress at Bay at 12 Oaks Communities
Aging is strongly linked with various mental and physical health threats. However, engagement in active and recreational activities is a helpful way for seniors to reduce stress and rediscover happiness, especially after the loss of their significant other.
Our 12 Oaks-managed senior living communities offer a range of relaxation activities that promote your seniors’ well-being while closely assessing their health conditions to deliver the best care possible by our professional team. Our team members work diligently to create a family-like atmosphere where your parents can feel comfortable and happy.
If you have questions about the connection between stress and dementia or any topics discussed here, connect with us and learn more.
At 12 Oaks, our team of caring professionals is dedicated to keeping residents safe, engaged, and connected to their families and friends while leading fulfilling lives. 12 Oaks senior living communities are an ideal place to enjoy the encore season of life.
For questions or to schedule a personalized tour, don’t hesitate to contact us.
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