Good mental health is important for everyone. It’s part of your overall well-being, it helps you to have good self-esteem, it makes you better able to face challenges and obstacles in your life and it allows you to maintain healthy friendships.
While anyone can face mental health challenges, seniors face some specific difficulties. These mental health difficulties can arise from:
- a loss of functionality
- a loss of independence
- social isolation
- a change in living arrangements
These particular difficulties can impact on an older adult’s mental health and make it difficult to manage their lives. But there are things that we can do to help bolster mental health, and ensure that our senior generation are able to live their golden years well.
1. Eat well, sleep well.
The first thing we can do is get back to basics. Sometimes we meet with older people who have perhaps moved from their home, or lost a spouse, and in the process, have lost structure in their lives. They stop eating at regular times, and take to sleeping at odd hours. It may not seem so, but this can significantly impact on mental health.
2. Take regular exercise.
Whether they like seated yoga, walks with friends or water aerobics, staying active and getting enough exercise are good for both the mind and body of seniors. Low impact exercises like stretching and strength training are vital for extending functionality and reducing the risk of falls, joint pain and other chronic injuries.
3. Keep an active mind.
It’s vital for seniors to keep exercising their minds as much as their bodies. The brain needs stimulation to avoid cognitive decline and stay sharp as we age. Reading, writing, playing music and puzzles are great ways to do that.
Mind games, like sudoku and crosswords, can also help older adults keep a sharp, healthy and active mind. Studies show that engaging in mind games can help increase short term memory, support decision making skills, help the brain to process information more quickly and even increase reaction time. And these skills will help older adults live a longer, more fulfilling life.
4. Maintain friendships.
For seniors, maintaining friendships can help keep at bay feelings of loneliness and isolation that can lead to depression and mental decline. Sometimes keeping in touch with friends can be difficult when age affects mobility or their ability to drive themselves for visits. Online chats are a fantastic way to bridge the gap—FaceTime, Skype and Zoom are easy to set up and use and there are volunteer groups who can assist.
Of course there’s always emails, phone calls and good old-fashioned letters. All of these are great ways to keep social connections and maintain good mental health
5. Care for a pet.
Caring for a pet is a great way for older adults to maintain great mental health. A pet helps keep them active, busy and on a schedule, and they offer companionship and unconditional love.
Studies also show that the bond with a pet can increase fitness, lower stress, decrease blood pressure, decrease feelings of loneliness and provide opportunities for socialisation.
6. Get a new hobby.
Finding something new to enjoy and fill their days is an important part of mental health for older adults. Retirement is a great time to pursue all those things that they’ve always wanted to, but never had the time. This might be learning to cook Italian food, gardening or painting or even taking up dancing lessons.
Learning new things helps increase the neuroplasticity of the brain, which actually increases the brains functionality by building new pathways and stimulating brain growth.
7. Do something for someone else.
We often hear from our seniors that as they age they begin to feel irrelevant. They’re no longer working and generally not caring for family any longer. This can lead to a loss of the sense of self.
Seniors can find fulfilment and a sense of purpose by looking outside of themselves to others. Whether that’s caring for the grandchildren a few times a month or even volunteering for a worthy cause. Many organisations need support, from men’s sheds to hospital baby cuddlers, and there are opportunities for older adults to get involved. Older adults who volunteer have reduced depression, better overall health, more functionality and greater longevity.
8. Go outside.
Time spent outdoors, whether that’s walking your dog, gardening or simply sitting and enjoying the day, is very good for mental health. In fact, studies show it improves moods instantly, reduces feelings of stress and anger, improves self-esteem and promotes feelings of relaxation (and it even increases longevity).
In addition, senior adults are often more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency, and getting outside can help combat that loss. But no matter how you cut it, even if it’s just for 20 minutes a day, getting outside as a senior adult is a very important way to maintain good mental health and live a well life.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our Clinicians; or send us an Appointment Request via this website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.