As we age, the types of stressors in our lives change. Older people may no longer need to worry about problems at work or paying the mortgage. Instead they experience new stressors such as losing friends and loved ones, changes in their mental and/or physical abilities, and how best to fill the empty space of retirement – and sometimes the unplanned prospect of having to move homes.
Additionally, they may also need to balance their own physical and / or mental decline with that of a husband or wife who may have deteriorated much further; for example, a man who may have recently suffered a stroke needing to look after his wife who has Alzheimer’s. This is where respite care could be very helpful, but how do you know when to have that conversation?
For many different reasons, your elderly loved ones might not tell you that they are feeling stressed and may even not realise or acknowledge this themselves. This could be due to pride, or to physical and mental difficulties. It is therefore important to be able to identify the potential signs of stress.
Here below are some signs that could indicate that your loved ones might be suffering from stress.
If they begin to complain of tooth or jaw pain, it is prudent to take them to a dentist. The problem may not be tooth decay, or ill-fitting dentures, but that they have started to unconsciously grind their teeth together due to feeling stressed thus causing jaw pain.
As with people of all ages, appetite can be the first thing affected by stress. Some people use food as a comfort and eat more than they should, or only eat unhealthy food / snacks, while others find that they are not hungry at all. In addition, elderly people may also end up eating less if the process of making food has become more difficult and stressful for them, making it an easy thing to forgo.
Headaches and indigestion
Headaches and stomach-aches are very common signs of acute stress, due to tension and the way that adrenalin and cortisol affects the digestive systems.
The drunken, rambling, wise-cracking grand-dad or grandmother may be a comedy troupe, but an unusual change in drinking pattern is something to watch out for in your loved ones. Are they, for example, having an extra glass of wine in the evenings compared to normal?
Mood changes are always something to be wary of with elderly loved ones, since they can herald infections or the onset of dementia. However, just like the rest of us, an elderly person under some stress can be prone to seemingly random fits of irritability or depression. Don’t assume a quick temper or suddenly becoming a loner to be simply a sign of crotchety old age – there may be an underlying fixable reason / cause!
Change in sleeping patterns
Elderly people generally sleep less than younger people often as a result of bladder issues, medication side-effects and changes to their natural sleep cycles. However, if your loved ones start complaining of sleeping even less than usual, take it seriously as they may be lying awake worrying about something into the early hours. Equally, if they suddenly start lying in bed in the morning for longer than usual, there may be something that they are avoiding.
Finally, we must not forget that stress can also be caused by caretaking responsibilities. Whatever the causes of stress and whether it is the carer or the loved ones who may be suffering, it can potentially be alleviated by a stay in a respite home. This option is offered by many residential homes, including our beautiful premises, Paxton Hall, which is situated just off the A1 in St. Neots, on the border between Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.