Stress in Elderly

As people age, the process of neurogenesis the formation of new neurones decreases. As a result, older people suffer from memory loss and have more difficulty learning new things compared to younger people.

Scientific study has also found that levels of stress hormones produced in the adrenal glands increase with age. Some research has indicated that this is responsible for the decline in memory and recall. High levels of stress can speed up this process.

It is possible that by alleviating stress and subsequently reducing the levels of stress hormone particularly cortisol from the blood stream, the decline in memory function is slowed.

This hypothesis is supported by animal research. When the adrenal glands were removed from aged rats, there was an increased development rate of new neurones, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain known to be involved in memory, learning and recall.

Stress and aging are causally linked. Scientists have in recent years carried out tests that prove stress damage to DNA is the main culprit behind wrinkles, grey hair, and diseases that can shorten our lifespan.

Our bodies were designed for short-term stress responses – the longer the stress response, the greater the risk to our health. The stress hormone Cortisol, which is released by adrenal glands, functions to increase blood pressure and break down stored energy reserves in the face of a real or perceived threat. Long-term release of cortisol kills memory-forming neurons.

Numerous studies carried out at the Touch Institute at the University of Miami showed how massage therapy is a very effective tool in intervening in a long-term stress response and lowering cortisol levels. A study conducted on men and women over the age of 60 found that those with high cortisol levels performed poorly on memory tests.

The ageing process begins in early adulthood, and accelerates into our 50’s.

Fortunately, we know that there are a number of simple methods that can dramatically slow down the process:


Obesity among people in the UK is rapidly increasing each year through a combination of lazy lifestyles and bad eating habits. Eating and maintaining a healthy diet can help prevent certain diseases materialising and keep you feeling active, energetic and healthy. Try adding the following into your daily diet:

  • Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to properly flush the systems of the body.
  • Cut out any red meat from your diet and replace with plenty of fish and chicken.
  • Eat grains such as oats, millet, and wheat from breads, pasta or cereals.
  • Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast as it has been found to set the energy tone for the rest of the day.
  • Cut out snacking, or replace crisps and chocolate with fruit, nuts, grains.
  • Make lunch your biggest meal and keep dinner’s light.
  • Try not to eat after 8’o clock. You need to give your body plenty of time to digest food properly before going to sleep.

Relaxation and Exercise

Performing regular exercise strengthens your body, maintains healthy weight and reduces mental tension.

Stretching, yoga, pilates and Mindfulness meditation are all great methods of relaxation. Getting a regular massage can also relieve a lot of stress.

What research has revealed

According to research carried out by a university in California , the stress of caring for a sick child can add 10 or more years to the biological age of a woman’s cells.

A team of researchers found that stress affects key pieces of DNA, called telomeres, which are involved in regulating cell division – therefore indicating that stress could be linked to the early onset of age-related diseases.

Telomeres – strips of DNA at the end of chromosomes which protect and stabilise the chromosome ends – shorten each time a cell divides, until there is nothing left, making cell division less reliable and increasing the risk of age-related disorders.

The researchers examined 58 pre-menopausal women, nineteen of whom had healthy children, while the rest had children with chronic illnesses.

The women were evaluated on the level of stress they felt they had been under during the previous month and blood samples were taken from them so that scientists could carry out DNA analysis of telomeres.

The researchers found that women who had reported higher levels of psychological stress – those who were caring for sick children – had shorter telomeres. They added that on average the difference was equivalent to over a decade of additional ageing compared with women who classed themselves as having low levels of stress.

It was also found that the high-stress women also had higher oxidative stress levels (growing damage caused by molecules called ‘free radicals’), which has been shown to speed up the shortening of telomeres.

Although it was not clear exactly how stress affected telomeres, the findings showed how cellular aging could be a way in which psychological stress was linked to the earlier onset of age-related diseases.

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