Seniors need stress relief, too, doctor says

DOWNEY - For many seniors who face sudden changes in their routines - be it illness, financial issues, loss or a change in their living environment - the golden years may not feel so golden. Stress can and does affect everybody but seniors often suffer in silence.Given today's high stress world of escalating gas prices and plunging financial returns, seniors often feel helpless. Stress among the elderly can play a serious role in their overall health and wellness but there are many ways for seniors to reduce their stress levels and improve their ability to deal with stressors. "Sometimes adults think the elderly have no stress because they may be retired from stressful jobs and their children are grown," said Dr. David French, director of psychological services for CareMore, which specializes in senior health. "The fact is, seniors often face more stress than anyone ever realizes." French said seniors often have the same stressors as younger adults and sometimes more, such as illnesses or the loss of a loved one or close friends. Financial issues, family problems and other changes can lead many seniors to suffer from the effects of chronic stress, he said. "Chronic stress can lead to anxiety and/or depression and can have an impact on your overall health," French warned. "Many seniors are reluctant to talk to their doctor about their stress levels because they may have other health issues to talk with the doctor about and may not bring it up." Some of the symptoms of chronic stress for seniors includes a change in appetite, sleep and mood. According to French, some seniors will sleep for long hours, sometimes not even getting out of bed, while others will have difficulty getting or staying asleep. Appetite changes may include eating too much or not at all, even favorite foods. Some seniors under stress may avoid contact with friends of family members and may isolate themselves in their homes. There are many ways seniors can improve their ability to manage stress. the first step is to talk to a doctor, caregiver, spouse or friend about the stress. "Talking about stress and your stressors can help you process the sources of stress and give you a better perspective," French said. "It relieves some of the stress immediately if you share your concerns with others." Exercise, good sleep habits and social engagement can also play a key role in reversing the effects of stress and help bring balance to health. "Those with chronic illnesses think that they can't exercise because they have heart disease or diabetes but you can move your body and improve your health no matter what your level of fitness is," French explained. "A simple walk can be a great stress reliever." Seniors can talk to their doctor to find out if their health plan offers an exercise program at no cost. Seniors may be able to participate with others in exercise programs that can prove highly effective at improving overall health and decrease stress levels. Some seniors turn to medications to help them with their stress, anxiety and depression. While medications can bring relief, seniors should work with their doctor to ensure they are taking the right dose and not mixing it with alcohol. "Falls can often be linked back to mixing medications with other medications or mixing them with alcohol so be sure to talk to your doctor about what other medications you may be taking," French said. Finally, French explained that locally-based programs and senior centers can go a long way in reducing stress. "Volunteering, connecting with others and engaging yourself in something that takes your mind off your problems can go a long way to help yourself and others," he said.

********** Published: June 2, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 7