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The Long-Term Effects of Stress on the Brain

By Lauren Robison, 8:00 am on

Humans developed the stress response thousands of years ago when predatory threats were common. When a rustling sound was heard, awareness was heighted. The stress response offered a form of protection. Today, we don’t stress over predators. Instead, a slow-burning stress seems to take over lives. So what is the cost of this long-term stress, specifically for older adults? Home Care Assistance of New Hampshire shares some insight.

  1. Stress damages brain cells. Cortisol, the hormone that is released in the brain when it’s stressed, slows the rate of new neuron production. An acutely stressful day can limit brain cell production, but long periods of stress can leave a person vulnerable to memory loss and conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s
  2. Stress triggers more stress. Cortisol also alters how people emotionally react to day-to-day challenges. For instance, if a person is constantly stressed about serious issues like money or health problems, smaller incidents can seem more stressful or become blown out of proportion because the brain is used to reacting to stress at extremely high levels.
  3. Stress is a gateway symptom. The effects of stress on the brain have been linked to addiction, depression, over-eating and weight gain. While stress can be independent of these issues, studies show that long-term stress increases overall risk.

When a Loved One is Stressed

While most people believe that retiring from a stressful job begins a carefree lifestyle, the golden years bring new stressors to light which can range from how to pay bills to potential or worsening health problems. If you feel your aging parent or loved one is experiencing extreme levels of stress, here are a few suggestions for relaxation:

  • Getting regular exercise through tai-chi or yoga
  • Trying deep breathing and visualization exercises
  • Participating in hobbies such as gardening, reading, or arts and crafts
  • Going on daily walks with friends, family members, or caregivers
  • Drinking green tea with honey
  • Looking into professional acupuncture sessions

Helping a parent or loved one de-stress during their golden years can help to preserve and even strengthen cognitive connections, leading to a happier, healthier way of life. For more information about senior living, reach out to Home Care Assistance of New Hampshire at 603-471-3004 and schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation. And don’t forget to ask about our revolutionary Cognitive Therapeutics Method!