When a resident of Santa Monica or elsewhere says they’re fine, it’s sometimes hard to believe them.
Whether they’re in good health or receiving palliative care, that phrase can sometimes mean all sorts of things from “I really, truly am fine” to “I’m not fine at all but don’t really want to tell you.”
The team at Accredited Home Care also hears this often and faces similar challenges in trying to figure out what a client is really saying about their general health and well-being. Getting to their true feelings and concerns sometimes requires a combination of observation, firm insistence, along with more specific questions that can pinpoint exactly what areas are fine and what areas could use a little improvement.
It’s a fairly delicate line though – too many questions can come across as an interrogation or general mistrust or suspicion, which can sometimes cause people to quickly clam up and not want to budge from their original “I’m fine – drop it” position. Not enough questions, on the other hand, can make it difficult to get to the bottom of what’s really bothering someone one – and if you can’t figure this out, you’re not able to find ways to make things better.
What’s causing them to be ‘less than fine’ can sometimes be difficult to assess: it could be something physical such as various health conditions. It could be something mental or emotional, such as general fears, anxieties or concerns. It could be symptoms of dementia or even fears of possibly having dementia symptoms.
They may be trying to deal with other aches and pains, or they could not want to bother others with what they’re going through or be any kind of burden to anyone. After all, they may feel that many other people their age are going through similar situations. Many have also been dealing with specific or general pain and anxieties for years so don’t necessarily have anything new to share when asked how they’re feeling.
It’s not necessarily a lie – they just try to make themselves feel that any pain is minimal. And the longer they try to ignore the pain, the better they’ll be at saying things are great.
Looking for stress
If the seniors in your life are going to continue to tell you that things are great, it requires learning a bit about how and why many seniors deal with stress – or don’t. This can help you understand what they could be going through and then you can learn ways to offer assistance.
Harvard Medical School said that as people get older, it becomes more and more common for them to have more stress and handle it poorly. These stress hormones can fill the brain, accelerating metabolism, increasing reflexes and alertness, reducing appetite with the exception of higher-energy foods like snacks.
In younger people, stress levels can decrease at a fairly quick pace and reach a lower equilibrium. But many seniors don’t have as much of a rapid reduction in stress, leaving them more alert and not being able to rest adequately.
A lack of quality sleep is one factor that can keep stress hormones in the bloodstream, leading people to feel less relaxed. Studies of stress levels have shown that chronic stress can cause other physical changes such as inflammation, high blood pressure, and a weaker immune system.
Beyond poor sleep, Healthday.com said the brain loses the ability to get rid of these hormones, women especially, who are three times more likely than men to have these hormones.
Signs of stress
Stress and anxiety can take many forms that may not be directly recognizable. Stress.org said some of these can include:
- A shorter attention span
- A weaker memory (regardless of dementia)
- More tension
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling more negative or depressed
- More easy to irritate
- Less interest in daily activities
- Low back pain
Dealing with stress
Simply asking someone to “feel better” or “cheer up” when they’re stressed really is a poor suggestion. In most cases, their health care provider should be advised. He or she should be able to come up with a variety of suggestions to help them feel calmer or diagnose health conditions that could be contributing to how they’re feeling.
Better sleep. The average senior may require less sleep than teens, but everyone needs at least 5-6 hours each night. A few naps also wouldn’t hurt as needed.
More exercise. Sustained physical activity, even low-impact, several days a week can create endorphins, which are happy hormones that can combat stress hormones. Activities in water can also be enjoyed with less pain.
Combining mind/muscle. Activities like yoga or tai chi can help your brain and your body at once. People say they are both soothing.
Social activity. Being around people, especially friends, has also been observed to reduce common stress hormones. Likewise, being home alone can make people feel more sad and lonely.
Overall, some mental health experts say one easy way to feel less stress is to look for ways that things are good in your life. Focusing on the positive isn’t as easy as dwelling on the negative, but it can be more rewarding.