Promoting Emotional Resilience and Social Well-being for Senior Adults:

A Mental Health Guide for Families and Caregivers

Mental Health Care for Seniors

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.

What Is Emotional Resilience and Social Well Being and Why Are They Important?

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.

Understanding Common Mental Health Concerns in Seniors

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:

  • Voluntary social isolation
  • Major changes in behavior
  • Memory issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced motivation for previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleeping over 12 hours a day

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.

How Can Family Members and Caregivers Help Seniors Foster Emotional Resilience?

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.

Practicing Mindfulness Exercises

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:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Positive affirmations

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.

yoga helps mental health in seniors

Encouraging Resilient Behaviors

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:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Healthy coping skills
  • Staying active
  • Honest communication
  • Positive attitude toward change

What Are Ways to Encourage Social Well-being in Senior Citizens?

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

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 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.

mental health support for seniors

Seeking Out Social Events

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:

  • Senior centers: Many local senior centers hold free or low-cost events. These could be game nights, exercise classes, or even skill classes like painting.
  • Volunteer groups: Volunteering can be a great social option for seniors because it can be tailored to their needs and time availability. Seniors can volunteer at the national level, for organizations like the national park service, or at the local level, such as for their local library.
  • Social club memberships: Social club memberships are another customizable social event that can be tailored to availability and interests. These clubs could be book clubs, card-playing clubs, bird watching groups — the possibilities are virtually endless. Paid club memberships, such as golf clubs or country clubs, may also be of interest to seniors and can come with some worthwhile perks.
  • Church events: Many seniors can rely on a church community for social support. Churches not only meet weekly, but often host holiday events, fundraisers, and other social gatherings. For seniors who want to get more involved in their church, they may consider joining a community or becoming an elder.
  • Charity organizations: Charity organizations are often looking for volunteers or organizers. This is a great outlet for social fulfillment and community connection. Charities also host community events, such as walks, galas, and fundraisers that can be a great social experience even if you aren’t directly involved in the organization.


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.

Mental Healthcare Resources for Senior Citizens

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.

  • Mental health treatment: Your primary healthcare provider may be able to recommend a therapist or medication regime for mental health concerns. Referrals are typically covered by insurance. However, there are some senior-specific organizations, such as the National Council on Aging, that may be able to provide more specialized treatment and services.
  • Medication management: The mismanagement of medication can lead to serious health problems and even death. Tools that can help you manage medication properly can include timer caps, which let you know how long it’s been since the pill bottle was open. Locking pill bottles, that auto-lock for a certain amount of time after opening, and daily medication dispensers, to name a few. You can typically find these tools at your local pharmacy, or online.
  • Blogs and educational resources: The first step to creating better mental health practices is understanding and learning about them. Senior care blogs can be a great place for seniors, as well as loved ones, to learn more about the obstacles they’re facing, and how to overcome them. Free educational resources are often available online, as well as physical publications that can help you get started.
  • Senior discounts: Many retail businesses offer a senior discount, which can help seniors get access to necessary or desired items at lower costs. A gym membership discount for seniors, for example, could allow someone to partake in an exercise class they normally couldn’t afford. This helps boost their social well-being and can have a positive effect on their mental health. You can ask any business if they offer senior discounts, or look at discount directories online.
  • Transportation services: Many cities offer low or no-cost transportation services for seniors. These services can help seniors who no longer can or wish to drive stay connected to their community. You can use the Eldercare Locator to find transportation services in your area.

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.

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