Getting older comes with life changes, such as retirement, relocating, or learning to manage changing family dynamics. The state of our mental health affects how we feel, how we think, and how we cope with change and stressful times in our lives. Memory loss, cognitive decline and the loneliness epidemic among seniors make them particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. Most commonly amongst seniors, we see conditions like anxiety, cognitive impairment and depression.
Not only do these conditions effect seniors mentally, but they can manifest themselves in physical ways as well. We know that stress of any kind can have negative effects on your physical health- like suppressing the immune system, decreasing our appetite, and even increasing risk for heart attack or stroke.
In this article, we have several tips for supporting our seniors as they age and maintaining mental health and well-being.
Exercise Your Body AND Your Brain
Physical exercise has tremendous health benefits- both to our bodies physically but also mentally. Exercise helps to manage stress and reduce anxiety by producing endorphins that keep us mentally sharp and feeling our best. Physical exercise can take many forms- such as daily walks, swimming, yoga or dance classes.
Just as the body needs physical activity to stay healthy, the brain needs stimulation to stay sharp. Studies have shown that “brain games” can help sharpen thinking skills like decision-making, reaction time and short-term memory. An activity that keeps the mind engaged and promotes problem-solving (such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, board/card games, etc.) are great examples, but other accessible activities may include reading, writing, playing an instrument, or learning a new language.
Ask for Help
As we get older, certain activities can become more difficult than they once were in our younger years. This could be anything from mowing the lawn, preparing meals, or even remembering to take prescribed medication. One of the best things (and often the most difficult) a struggling senior can do is ask for help, whether that is through a friend, family member or even a senior-care specialist. Asking for help not only gives us a feeling of community, but also protects seniors from dangers like falling or other forms of physical harm.
Discover a New Hobby
It’s never too late to try something new! Retirement is the perfect time for seniors to cross some things off their bucket-lists and pursue their lifelong dreams- or even trying something they’ve never done before. Think cooking classes, gardening, joining a music group or taking an art class!
Learning a new skill keeps our brains sharp and our minds engaged, and the relationships you can form through new hobbies help give seniors a sense of comfort and belonging.
Caring for a Pet
A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan linked owning a pet for 5 or more years delayed aging in the brain in adults 65 and older. Why? Pets not only can provide companionship to a lonely senior, but they promote physical activity and overall happiness. Studies have also shown that pets may provide health benefits like lowering blood pressure as well as reducing stress and symptoms of depression.
If having a pet is not feasible, volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way to connect with animals and help in your community.
Time and distance can make it difficult for people to stay in touch with friends and family, especially as we age. After retirement, we often experience a shift in our daily lives, which is largely impacted by lack of social interaction that we may have been used to in the working world.
Studies have shown that nearly one-fourth of adults over the age of 65 feel lonely and/or socially isolated. Nowadays, technology has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with family and friends, through programs like social media, FaceTime and Skype- just to name a few. If technology seems tricky for the senior, encourage them to set up regular phone calls (or even write letters) to friends and family they want to stay in touch with.