The Impact of Chronic Stress on Brain Health in Aging Adults

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While stress is an inevitable part of life, there’s a difference between the normal stress felt while preparing for a vacation or meeting a deadline and chronic stress, which can affect the brain and even cause damage to brain cells. For many seniors, chronic stress may result from the loss of a spouse, a disability, chronic illness, a change in living situation, or money problems, and it can affect the brain in the following ways. 

Stress & Memory 

Research has suggested that long-term stress can harm memory in older adults. In fact, even a moderate amount of stress, such as what a person might feel while driving in an unfamiliar area, can cause someone to produce memory test results similar to those of someone with Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe the stress hormone cortisol is responsible for the fast decrease in memory performance in the short term, and it’s believed that long-term stress plays a role in the development of disorders like Alzheimer’s.  If your elderly loved one is living with Alzheimer’s and needs help managing the symptoms, turn to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of Alzheimer’s care. Des Moines seniors can rely on our revolutionary Cognitive Therapeutics Method (CTM), an activities-based program that promotes cognitive health and delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. CTM also encourages seniors to engage with others in an enjoyable way and helps them build new routines to look forward to.

Stress & Brain Cells 

Neuroscientists have long suspected that cortisol and chronic stress can damage the brain. A study published in 2014 confirmed this link by showing that chronic stress triggers permanent changes in brain function and structure. This may be why young people who have chronic stress early in their lives are more prone to anxiety and mood disorders later. Researchers found that chronic stress and high levels of cortisol actually cause an overproduction of myelin-producing cells in the brain as well as fewer neurons. This leads to too much “white matter” in the brain instead of “gray matter,” which is responsible for higher functions like thinking.  A trained professional caregiver can be a wonderful resource when you’re trying to help your loved one lead a healthier lifestyle, which includes reducing stress. Not every senior has the same care needs, which means they don’t all need the same type of home care. You can rely on Home Care Assistance to provide an individualized care plan to meet your elderly loved one’s unique care needs. Our holistic Balanced Care Method was designed to help seniors focus on healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining strong social ties, and our Cognitive Therapeutics Method offers mentally stimulating activities that can boost cognitive health and delay the onset of dementia.

Stress & Malfunctioning Stem Cells 

Researchers also believe cortisol triggers a domino effect that makes the brain predisposed to remain in a constant state of fight or flight. Long-term stress can trigger stem cells to turn into cells that inhibit connections to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which would help with memory and learning, instead creating a system in the brain that’s linked to depression and anxiety.  While we may think of stress as an immediate issue, the truth is it has very long-lasting consequences, particularly for seniors who may be living with chronic stress due to any number of triggers. Taking steps to relieve stress is important both in the short term and to prevent memory problems and depression in the long run.  Some seniors may be stressed because they don’t have the assistance they need to manage the activities of daily life. If your aging loved one needs help managing everyday tasks or encouragement to adopt healthier lifestyle choices, turn to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of senior home care. Des Moines Home Care Assistance provides professional in-home caregivers around the clock to help seniors live longer, happier, and healthier lives. To learn more about our premier in-home care plans, call us at (515) 264-2438 today.


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