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Stress and the Elderly II – 8 Negative Effects of Stress


This series on stress has been interesting on several levels and has also increased my awareness of the problem. Last week I shared five causes of stress for seniors and how they impact one’s independence. However, I’m not sure I did an adequate job of defining stress. Before we venture any further, let’s first define what it is we’re dealing with. According to Medicine Net, an online medical site providing detailed information on general health and disease, “stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the “fight or flight” response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems.”


Now that we’ve defined the problem and know its general causes, we can, with more confidence, know what to prepare for. With this in mind, I will be sharing with you eight ways stress can negatively affect seniors and their independence.



  • Digestion – In their publication dated August 21, 2019, Harvard Mental Health Letter stated, “The relationship between environmental or psychological stress and gastrointestinal distress is complex and bidirectional: stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa.


  • Weight Gain – Edward T. Creagan, M.D. “a professor of medical oncology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine,” shares that during times of high-stress people may eat more high-calorie foods than usual, causing weight gain. This is known in some circles as stress eating.



  • Hearing, an online website dedicated to helping people retain their hearing, cites research by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) linking the physical changes in blood flow to negative impacts on hearing.


  • Dental ProblemsSean Grover, L.C.S.W., writing in Psychology Today, shares the results of various studies linking stress to various dental issues. Included are tooth decay, gingivitis, and teeth grinding.


  • MemoryNew England Geriatrics, a Massachusetts leader in geriatric care and mental health, has based their treatments on multiple research studies linking stress to memory problems, even to Alzheimer’s and dementia.


  • Heart – A recent study by the British Heart Foundation concluded that there is indeed a high correlation between stress and the increased risk of a heart attack or stroke 


We’ve now looked at causes and problems that can come from stress. Any one of these can be bad enough, but it has been my experience that no senior will have just one of these problems. I shared in last week’s article that roughly 10 million seniors suffer from stress. The cost of treating one of these is relatively high. Now multiply that by two or more and you can easily see how families, friends, and the health care system are all pushed to their limits and beyond with regard to seniors suffering from stress. Next week I will be sharing ways on how to deal with and alleviate stress. I invite you to share below any thoughts or feelings you have toward stress and ways you deal with it.