As many as one in five seniors experience mental health issues not associated with aging. This increased risk of depression and anxiety is why it’s so important to invest in emotional well-being, as well as physical well-being as a part of senior care. Whether you’re a caregiver, a loved one, or a senior yourself, there are ways to address mental health concerns before they escalate. Isolation is one of the biggest factors contributing to worsening senior mental health.
Joining a senior living community can have a huge impact on mental well-being. If you’re not sure if a community is right for you, then practicing emotional resilience and maintaining social relationships can also make a positive impact on senior mental health.
Emotional resilience describes someone’s ability to adapt to crises. Seniors often face crises like the death of a close friend, the loss of a spouse, or worsening physical health. Without being able to adapt to these and similar events, seniors’ mental health can seriously decline. A person’s physical health can also be impacted by the inability to cope with crises. While rare, broken heart syndrome can cause serious, and in some cases irreparable, physical damage to the heart.
Social well-being, on the other hand, refers to a sense of belonging to a community. As mentioned before, isolation can be one of the biggest problems seniors face if they live on their own. For seniors that still desire to live on their own (Independent Living) senior living communities often offer services to emphasize independence while still offering the opportunity to be a part of a close community. Emotional resilience can make a positive impact on someone’s social well-being, but everyone still needs those direct connections — to family, to friends, to the community — to fully round out their emotional health.
Both emotional resilience and social well-being are important parts of your overall mental health. By cultivating these things, you can improve feelings of contentment and reduce stress, which can ultimately lengthen your life.
Seniors may fail to recognize mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety within themselves. Often, these signs are attributed to the aging process, or seniors are isolated enough that their distress goes unnoticed. Physical symptoms, such as increased fatigue, can even be signs of depression, which seniors may not know. Despite this, around 34 million Americans age 65 or older suffer from some form of depression. Depression and other mood disorders can have serious health implications for seniors, and even increase the risk of suicide if left unattended.
It’s important to understand the signs of depression in seniors, to seek help. Here are some signs that you or your loved one may be struggling with mental health:
If you or your loved one are exhibiting any of these symptoms, then talk to your primary care provider. They can give you a clearer idea of what you’re dealing with, as well as healthy coping mechanisms.
Depression was still considered a rare condition following World War II. Because of this, seniors who came of age in the mid-20th century may not have grown up with the same awareness of mental health. As a caregiver or loved one, there are ways that you can encourage this self-knowledge in seniors.
Mindfulness is another way to foster emotional resilience. The philosophy behind mindfulness is to connect with your inner monologue and grow more personal insight. This can allow you to better understand your moods and reactions, which in turn can help you navigate crises. There are several ways to practice mindfulness:
You can also incorporate mindfulness into everyday practices. Gardening, cleaning, or even bathing can become mindful activities by checking in with your emotions and working to be present at the moment.
As mentioned, emotional resilience can be a significant factor to maintaining your mental health. Many people will learn some form of emotional resilience through their life experiences, however, there are ways you can nurture emotional resilience. Some behaviors that foster emotional resilience include:
Loneliness and isolation have been linked to serious health problems for seniors. As we get older, it can be harder to maintain the same level of social interaction we once had. This can be influenced by many factors, such as losing the ability to drive, moving away from social connections, and even the passing of friends. There are certain things that caregivers of seniors can do to encourage social and mental well-being.
Reading is a great activity for seniors. It helps keep the mind active and occupied, without putting strain on the body. Mental exercises like reading, puzzles, and gameplay can even help decrease the likelihood of memory loss diseases, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Additionally, reading can be used as a social device that helps reduce social isolation. For example, joining a book club can be a great way to keep seniors engaged throughout the week, and help build and maintain personal relationships.
Building and maintaining social relationships are an important part of healthy aging. Regular social interaction makes us feel as if we’re connected to the world around us. Joining new clubs, or even getting a pet can be a great option for seniors. Many shelters even offer fostering opportunities. This allows you to reap the social benefits of having a pet without committing completely.
There are many opportunities for seniors to get involved in the community if they know where to look. These options can range from free to paid membership, and cover a wide range of interests. Some of the social events and opportunities for seniors include:
As a caregiver, you can assist your senior family member by searching out these groups online, or getting in touch with local organizations of interest. Social opportunities can vary by community, so it’s worthwhile to look into the organizations around you to find a quality match.
70% of adults 55 and older with mood or anxiety disorder don’t use any kind of mental health treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health. Negative attitudes toward therapy, and aging in general, have presented the deepest barriers for seniors in need of mental health services, but accessibility also plays a part. The resources below can help make mental health management more accessible to seniors, while the strategies above can help destigmatize mental health practices.
It’s never too late to start looking after your emotional well-being. As little as five minutes of mindfulness a day can help regulate your mood and decrease stress. Intentionally caring for your mental and emotional health can vastly improve your quality of life.