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MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Tips for managing stress in the elderly

Stress can have a significant impact on physical and mental health. Read our tips to manage worry and distress.

September 14, 2023

Elderly man dealing with stress

Experiencing stress is very common in older adults, although many elderly people don’t necessarily identify what they are feeling or going through as stress. Someone who is stressed, especially for a sustained period of time, can experience not only mental health and emotional issues as a result, but it can have an impact on physical health too. It’s therefore very important that older people are equipped with what they need to help manage their stress and look after their wellbeing.

In this article, we look at common causes and effects of stress on older people, what the signs of stress might be in the elderly and how to help manage stress levels.

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Common causes of stress in elderly people

There are a wide variety of different things that can cause stress in older adults and despite most elderly people having lived full and independent lives for many decades, getting older can bring new challenges for them to deal with.

Some of the common causes of stress in older people can include:

  • Physical changes that mean they can no longer do things that they used to find easy
  • Increased frailty and feelings of vulnerability
  • A change to their independence or not feeling in control of certain aspects of their life
  • Being diagnosed with medical conditions that will affect their lifestyle
  • Bereavement, especially the loss of a spouse or partner, or long-term friends and other loved ones
  • If they have to care for a loved one, such as a spouse with dementia or other health conditions
  • Financial changes or concerns about living costs, bills or potential scams
  • Loneliness or social isolation
  • Potentially having to move from a home they’ve been in for some time.

While everyone experiences some worries and stresses in life, many older people can experience chronic stress over a long period of time, which can really take a toll on their physical and emotional health if they are not able to manage it effectively.


Elderly lady struggling to sleep

The effects of stress on older adults

There is ongoing research into the impact of stress on health, but chronic stress is known to cause increased levels of cortisol, which can impact blood pressure. Stress is also known to sometimes cause changes in metabolism and can increase blood sugar. These are all things that can have serious implications for older people, especially if they already have existing health conditions to deal with.

Alongside the potential physical impacts of stress on older people, there are mental health considerations too.

Sustained stress can result in low mood, depression and anxiety in older people, all of which can cause them to retreat into themselves and not speak to anyone about what they are experiencing, which can make the stress even worse.

It’s important to try and break this stress cycle so that the elderly person can have the best possible quality of life in their later years.

Elderly man talking to doctor

The signs and symptoms of stress in the elderly

It can often be difficult to see when an elderly person is feeling stressed, as many people from older generations are unused to talking about things like this, and they might not want to admit that there is anything wrong or simply don’t want to cause a fuss.

However, if you have an older loved one who is experiencing chronic stress, there are lots of ways that they can be helped, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for signs that they might be going through this.

Some of the early warning signs of stress in an older loved one can include:

  • Experiencing changes to their sleep patterns – either too little to too much sleep
  • Changes to eating habits – such as a noticeable increase or decrease in how much or the types of food they are eating
  • Having difficulties concentrating on things they would normally not do
  • Being very forgetful
  • Being very indecisive (if this isn’t normal for them)
  • Being snappy or irritable
  • Fatigue
  • If they are a drinker or smoker, increasing their use of either or both
  • Low mood.

Some of these signs can also be symptoms of other things, which can make it quite challenging to determine if they are happening because of stress or for another reason. Any sudden changes in behaviour or attitude are always worth looking into.



Other physical signs of stress in an older person

There can often be physical signs of stress that show in older people too, which may include:

  • Lots of headaches
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling muscle pain or tension
  • Having an upset stomach or other digestive problems when they usually don’t
  • Feeling a faster heartbeat or chest pain
  • Experiencing panic attacks.

Many of these physical signs of stress in the elderly can also be indicators of other issues or health concerns, so it’s always wise to ensure they see a medical professional as soon as possible to let them know about any worrying symptoms.

Elderly lady talking to daughter

Talking to an older loved one about stress

While there are exceptions, many older people find it difficult to talk about feeling stressed or worried with their loved ones, so this can make it more challenging for family and friends to find out what is going on. However, talking can be a great way to start dealing with the harmful impact of stress, so it’s important to try.

A good way to start a conversation on this topic can be to let the older person know that you care about them and have noticed some changes recently that you would really like to help them with. It’s not about interfering, but you want to better understand what is going on and see if you can support them in any way they want.

If they don’t want to talk to you about what is going on with them, you can ask if there is someone else they would rather speak to.

Sometimes, it is easier for them to speak to someone outside of their close family or circle of friends. This could be a GP or another health professional, a religious leader or someone else in their community.



Tips for stress management in elderly people

Everyone is different and what works for one person experiencing stress might not for another, so it’s important to tailor management tips to the individual person. The reasons for the stress in the first place can also make a big difference to the kind of management that will best help.

However, some general management tips that many older people might find beneficial when they feel stressed include:

  • Encouraging them to talk about what is bothering them to a relative, friend or professional, who may be able to help them resolve problems or at least look at things from another perspective
  • Increasing social interactions to provide more opportunities for talking and combatting loneliness
  • Taking part in suitable light physical exercise or sport
  • Taking up a new hobby or volunteering in their community, if they are able to
  • Taking them on trips or days out to places that they enjoy or have always wanted to go
  • Doing mindfulness activities regularly, such as breathing exercises or meditation
  • Look for groups in the community that may be able to help, such as befriending or support groups for older adults
  • Consider a personal alarm system, so that the older adult can always reach assistance if they need it when you can’t be with them.

Download the Staying Connected guide

Our Staying Connected guide will help you understand the symptoms of loneliness and address the causes. The guide provides information, resources and advice to help you overcome loneliness, build meaningful connections and be your best in later life.

Download free guide

Stress can be a very real problem for many older people and their loved ones. It’s only natural to worry about an elderly person who is showing signs of stress, especially if you can’t be with them for much of the time.

A personal alarm system could be one way to help manage some of the stress that an older adult might have about feeling vulnerable, or if they are concerned about having a fall when at home or out and about. With just one press of the button on a wearable emergency pendant, the 24/7 resolution team is contacted and can speak to the wearer and arrange whatever help is needed.

Get help choosing a personal alarm

It’s important to choose a personal alarm or fall alarm that fits well with your older loved one’s lifestyle and contains all the features that are needed. Our team can help make sure you choose the right product for your situation. Call us on 0800 085 7371 for tailored advice.

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Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure


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