International Stress Awareness Week: Stress and Grief in Later Years

Feeling ‘stressed out’ is a common experience we all encounter momentarily, but when growing older, added strain during periods of transition will intensify physical and mental stress making it harder to cope. From research, experts have discovered that from 65 onwards the immune system starts to become weaker, so this age group is more likely to succumb to an infection or any bug doing the rounds. Please note mental health in later years is also vulnerable during the aftermath of a major bereavement. Repercussions to watch out for may include loss of appetite, memory loss, confusion with episodes of agitated behaviour being out of character for the person involved.

Now imagine the death of someone who you have come to know and love for well on most of your life – like a close friend, partner, wife or husband. The consequences of losing such a long attachment through bereavement most certainly leads to a prolonged cycle of grief depending on the nature of the attachment. Loss is a common issue for the elderly community as lifelong attachments begin to pass away with more frequency the longer one lives. More often a period of anxiety and loneliness will inevitably follow on from what was once familiar, a time when memory is increasingly relied upon to provide solace after a turbulent time.

People react to grief each in their own way, some with the effects of post-traumatic stress, others through physical illness but there is no doubt that the negative effects of stress can lessen quality of life in old age. Nevertheless, grief is not a unit of time, it’s a process without limits winding on erratically yielding varying days both good and bad, constantly evolving an individual’s wellbeing in the fullness of time. Grief will rumble on through the different stages of shock, sadness, tiredness, anger and guilt.

If you know a loved one is going through a bad patch, there is much to gained by encouraging them to talk, maybe ask for help. Many elderly people suffering from stress might keep their problems invisible to the outside world before going about their everyday business, for many with affirmations of being ok upon being asked who are simultaneously dealing with the turmoil of profound loss. Turning talk to the subject of the dying or death can be even more challenging for some during discussions about the passing of a loved one, never more so than when planning for one’s own future. Studies have shown that men are more likely to keep things bottled up living through loneliness and isolation in silence while typically women tend to worry more about finance, though for anyone opening up with a trusted friend or relation could alleviate some of the pressure by working out with them what comes next without necessarily doing it all alone.

Read our other blog about independent living and stress in later years and find some helpful hints about looking after yourself with relevant websites: https://www.ageconcerncolchester.org.uk/2019/04/21/stress-and-independant-living/