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Consequences of chronic stress in the elderly
Long-term stress has an effect on your health. Especially in the elderly, the consequences of persistent stress are serious. This has to do with all kinds of factors such as physical changes as mental changes. The body functions less well and the effects of stress last longer in the body. Hormone levels are less well maintained. Chronic stress can cause major damage and it can affect life considerably.
Effect of stress
The relationship between the way your body and mind react to stress and the effect this has on your mental and physical health is very complicated. As you get older, it will only become more complicated. Stress often goes along with changes, and aging is also accompanied by changes. This applies both to both inner and outer.
Changes as you get older
As you get older, there are often changes in your socio-economic status, physical health, skills and support from your family. These are all stressful factors that people recognize well when they get older. The body is already experiencing normal, age-related changes and if you get chronic stress again, it can take on dangerous proportions for some people. The effects of persistent stress are especially severe for aging people.
What influence does aging have?
As you get older, your brain gradually loses the ability to keep your hormone levels at a good level. Stress can make hormone levels change a lot, but when you get older, an imbalance in your hormone levels arises. This leads to problems with health. The longer your brain is exposed to stress hormones, the greater the chance that you will suffer health problems.
As an example, we look at the hormone cortisol that is produced in the adrenal cortex. A prolonged high level of this hormone in your blood due to stress accelerates the aging of healthy bone and muscle tissue, but also slows down healing processes and normal recovery of body cells. The increased blood pressure and accelerated heart rate exert more pressure on the blood vessels around your heart and accelerate the development of heart problems. In addition, a prolonged excess of cortisol can damage the hippocampus (in your brain). This part of your brain is indispensable when remembering and recalling memories. Research shows that high concentrations of cortisol lead to poor memory.
Reaction to stress
The normal biological response to stress, such as an accelerated heartbeat and an increased blood pressure, is prolonged in older people. Long-term stress causes a much greater burden on the body. This chronic stress increases the risk of a heart attack or sudden death.
Impairment of the immune system
If the content of stress-related neurotransmitters (nerve agents) takes the upper hand in response to chronic stress, it prevents parts of the immune system from functioning properly. Prolonged illness and nagging inflammations can be the result of changes in the white blood cells that are part of the immune system. As a result, the immune system is suppressed in its entirety, making the body more susceptible to viral infections.
Women are extra sensitive
Especially women are sensitive to an excess of stress hormones when they get older. In fact, the effect of age on cortisol levels in women is nearly 3 times as large as in men. So when women continue to take on stressful jobs, they need to be extra alert to the possible effects of stress on the body.