Is Stress Affecting an Elderly Loved One?


Many people think the elderly have it made. After all, they enjoy freedom from the pressures of holding jobs and raising children. In addition to that, they receive Social Security and Medicare benefits. However, elderly people suffer from stress just like everyone else. Sometimes they face greater stresses than younger people. Here’s how a caregiver or concerned family member can tell if an elderly loved one is suffering from serious stress.

Feeling Overwhelmed Due to Stress

If your elderly loved one vocalizes a sense of feeling overwhelmed, or says that a certain situation is too much for him or her, this is an obvious sign of stress. Of course, depending on his or her mental status, he or she may be all too easily overwhelmed. Alternatively, he or she may not know how to vocalize such feelings in a less alarming way. It also may be that an elderly person may not want to tell others how he or she is feeling due to cultural norms or personality traits. In that case, concerned parties must pay close attention for signs of stress.


Sudden Changes in Appetite

If an elderly person has always had a hearty appetite and suddenly begins picking at his or her food, it may be a sign of too much stress. When someone’s stress level is such that it takes away the enjoyment of basic activities like eating, it is too much.

Of course, a change in appetite can be indicative of other issues as well. Certain illnesses or medical conditions can display symptoms that include a loss of appetite. Thus, if and elderly person is suddenly less interested in eating, the matter should be investigated further and other causes ruled out before concluding that the problem is due to stress.


Rapid Mood Swings

An elderly person who is happy and cheerful who suddenly becomes sour or even depressed is likely under stress. The elderly person may be discovered crying or he or she may begin getting angry easily.

When an elderly person begins acting in a hostile or confrontational way, it is sometimes tempting to write it off as the person just being cantankerous or stubborn. However, this may very well be a sign that he or she is suffering from too much stress. Caregivers and family members do well to consider any recent developments that may be placing too much strain on the elderly person’s psyche. It may be time to offer help.


Trouble Sleeping

Elderly people who are suffering from too much stress may have difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night. As with a change of appetite, a change in sleeping patterns could have other causes as well. If the change comes at a time when a new stressor has entered the elderly person’s life, though, there’s a good chance that it is stress-related.

This is particularly true if the senior has never before had issues with falling asleep or sleeping throughout the night. It is true that many elderly people sleep less than they did when they were younger. However, if the change in sleep patterns is sudden, there is a good chance that stress is the culprit.


Sudden Isolation

Some people like to be alone. They continue to have this preference in their elder years. However, if an elderly loved one has always been a “social butterfly” and begins to suddenly withdraw from social situations, it may be because he or she is overly stressed and cannot cope.

Consider the situations in his or her life: has something changed recently? Has he or she lost a close friend or family member, or received some troubling news? If so, there is a good chance that the sudden isolation is his or her response to elevated stress.

Researchers Russell and Cutrona state that the stronger a person’s social support network, the better he or she can cope with life. In fact, people with good social support networks tend to incur fewer negative events. This may be because they benefit from the good advice and helpful aid of others. Cutrona, Russell, and Rose also theorize that people with good social support networks may not really experience fewer negative events. They are just “buffered” from them by their social support networks. This sometimes prevents them from perceiving such events as particularly negative.

Of course, no one can prevent stressful and negative events like the death of a friend, for example. Other negative consequences in life are avoidable or buffered by a good social support network. Encouraging social interaction for the elderly is nearly always a plus. It is a valuable stress reducer.


Behavioral Changes

If an elderly loved one begins to act differently, the unexpected behavior could have its source in stress. For example, someone who was always cautious with his or her money may suddenly begin to spend extravagantly. Even a new inability to remember names, places, or other information could result from increased stress levels. It could be that the elderly person is preoccupied with whatever is causing the stress. He or she is simply not able to take the time and effort to concentrate on remembering things.


Be Alert for Any of These or Other Symptoms

Symptoms of stress can all come from other factors. A family member should be able to identify if an elderly loved one is suddenly suffering from stress. The presence of some or all of the above symptoms may be signals. Family members and caregivers do well to be aware of how negatively stress can affect an elderly person and to work to alleviate it.



Russell, Daniel W. and Cutrona, Carolyn E. (June 1991). Social support, stress, and depressive symptoms among the elderly: Test of a process model. Psychology and Aging, 6(2): 190-201. Available at Retrieved September 14, 2016.

Cutrona, Carolyn E., Russell, Daniel W., and Rose, Jayne. (March 1986). Social support and adaptation to stress by the elderly. Psychology and Aging, 1(1): 47-54. Available at Retrieved September 14, 2016.