Stress has long been associated with heart attacks and strokes. Family caregivers and others that care for seniors have been advised to incorporate a healthy diet, schedule exercise and manage stress in order to help those they care for live the best and healthiest life. Cortisol, the stress hormone, was at one time believed to be the link between these cardiovascular diseases and stress, but recently, researchers have found a different link—the part of the brain that manages stress, the amygdala.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for detecting fear and preparing for emergency events. It increases your awareness when a fearful or life-threatening event occurs in order to promote action and thereby saving you from the perceived threat. It tells the bone marrow to temporarily produce more white blood cells that can repair potential damage.
When humans faced bears and tigers on a regular basis, it came in handy. You saw or heard the danger, sent the information to the amygdala, which then sent a distress signal to the hypothalamus thus activating the fight of flight response system.
Studies now reveal that those with increased activity in this area of the brain are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Chronic stress and anxiety keep the amygdala active, causing the over-production of the while blood cells, which eventually form plaque in the arteries leading to cardiovascular disease.
The study was conducted on 293 patients that were monitored for approximately 3.7 years to see if they developed cardiovascular disease. These patients were given a combined PET/CT scan in order to record their brain, bone marrow, and spleen activity and inflammation of their arteries. During this time frame, 22 patients experienced heart attacks, angina, heart failure, strokes or peripheral arterial disease.
Those with higher amygdala activity had an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and an associated increase in bone marrow activity leading to inflammation of the arteries. The researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital concluded that “Amygdalar activity independently and robustly predicted cardiovascular disease events.”
While retirement is often associated with a decrease in stress and a lifestyle that promotes relaxation, the process of aging and the associated changes can take its toll. The loss of the social network provided by the work setting, possible changes in the home environment as well as increasing physical ailments may all create a consistent, low-grade stress and anxiety that can be difficult to detect or resolve. Increasing isolation can add to the sense of loss and increasing anxiety.
Knowing this correlation, it’s important to incorporate activities into your senior loved one’s life that diminishes stress and promotes relaxation. These activities include the following:
- Tai chi, a gentle Chinese martial art form that combines slow movement, focused breathing and mindful awareness.
- Yoga, particularly those types that incorporate gentle movements such as Hatha yoga.
- Relaxation recordings that include visualizations of peaceful and tranquil scenes. There is a wealth of these on YouTube.
- Walking, particularly through nature. Consider accompanying your senior parent on a stroll through the local botanical garden or green space.
- Exercise that your loved one enjoys such as water aerobics or bicycling.
- Emotional support and an engaged lifestyle. Make sure your loved one’s schedule includes social interaction, whether with family and friends, their in-home senior care provider, or trips to the local senior community center.
Prevention is always better than the cure. Help your senior loved one stay healthy by providing a heart-healthy diet, scheduling regular exercise, and reducing stress levels through relaxing activities and social engagement. A senior home care provider can assist with these activities as well as the daily tasks of living and provide the companionship so important to physical well-being.
If you or an aging loved one are considering Senior Care Services in Media PA, please contact the caring staff at True Direct Home Health Care today.