Mental Health and Aging: 5 Keys to Emotional Wellness
Mental health and wellness is important at every stage of life. It’s a fact, as we get older, our risk for mental health issues increases. Life changes and health issues can significantly impact mental health and wellness, in turn, affecting the quality of life. However, mental health problems are not a normal part of aging. Symptoms of a problem can sometimes be misunderstood or even go unrecognized, especially in older persons.
With October’s focus in mental health, it’s a perfect time to talk about mental health, aging and what you can do to keep yourself or your loved one well.
Some of the facts about mental health in seniors might surprise you.
- More than Alzheimer’s and dementia, depression is the most common mental health issue that seniors face.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between 1 and 5% of seniors who live at home have depression.1
- For seniors who require home health services or are in assisted living, the rate of depression is about 14%.1
- If you or your loved one has a chronic health issue, the risk for depression increases significantly.
Depression is much more than just “the blues”. We all have days that we just feel melancholy, kind of blah or even sad. Depression is a more pervasive sadness that can affect not just your mood but your physical health and ability to function in your daily life.
Some of the symptoms of depression2 can include:
- A persistent sad mood
- Changes in appetite (eating more or eating less)
- Changes in sleep (too much or too little);early morning awakening
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Fatigue or lack of energy or interest
- Increased irritability
- Thoughts of suicide
- Physical ailments (e.g., aches and pains, GI distress) that have no medical cause or don’t get better even with treatment
This is not a complete list. Depression is a complex disorder that can look differently from one person to another. To complicate matters, we are in general not very good about asking for help. This is especially true as we age. We want to handle things ourselves. Asking for help can feel like we’re losing that independence we value so much.
The good news is, depression is treatable, often with medication and counseling. Believe it or not, lifestyle has also been shown to play a key role in mental health and wellness. There are things you and your loved one can do to stave off depression and encourage feelings of well-being and happiness.
Five Keys to Emotional Wellness
1. Have a Conversation
When you’re not ok, it can be hard to ask for help. Sometimes people don’t know they’re not doing ok. Others might hide or minimize their struggle.
If you’re concerned about your loved one, it’s ok to gently ask questions. Ask about their sleep. Ask how they’re feeling. Ask about their day and what they’ve been up to. Ask and then listen. If it sounds like they’re struggling, offer love and offer help.
If you’re struggling, reach out to a loved one or trusted friend. They may not know you need help. We’re good at minimizing our feelings and needs, remember? Sometimes just making that connection is the first step to healing.
2. Encourage Social Engagement
One of the most important things seniors can do is to stay socially connected to friends and family. In fact, social connectedness has been shown to have a number of protective benefits especially in later years. People who are socially active tend to live longer, have fewer health issues and report feeling happier.
Staying connected can get harder as we age or deal with health issues.
- Encourage visits to family and friends. If they need help getting there, offer to take them or help to arrange transportation.
- Community events can be a great way to make connections with peers and make new friends.
- Your local senior center may organize group outings.
The important thing is to make those social connections and make them often.
3. Create a Sense of Purpose
Purpose is what gets us up in the morning. It gives us a reason to be up and moving. As we mature, we have to deal with inevitable changes. Purpose fulfills our need to be useful. Too much unfilled time is an invitation for brooding and isolation.
- Encourage your loved one to engage in something they enjoy or find fulfilling. Maybe they have (or had) a favorite hobby.
- Consider volunteering at a favorite charity or community program.
- Give them a small task or chore – tend to a plant, help care for the family pet.
Sometimes even the smallest task can instill a tremendous sense of pride and purpose. Those feelings are powerful deterrents to depression.
4. Stay Active
Being physically active has been shown to have significant benefits as we age. Exercise promotes physical fitness. But there’s more: physical activity has profound effects on mental and emotional well-being. Help your loved one find gentle, age- and ability-appropriate ways to stay active.
Activities walking or swimming can accommodate almost every ability. Exercise classes such as yoga or tai chi can provide activity while also encouraging social engagement, another key to mental health and well-being.
5. Show Your Love
As their independence diminishes, caring for your loved one can feel like a full-time job. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes, we forget the “I love you’s”.
Feeling loved and cared for are essential to one’s emotional well-being. Take time to express your love. Tell them you love them. And hug them.
Loving touch is one of the most powerful ways we can show someone we love them. And, hugging has other benefits too. Hugging has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve memory. Why? When you hug someone, their body releases oxytocin, a powerful hormone associated with social interaction, emotional bonding and closeness. Feeling loved and emotionally connected is a powerful protector against depression.
At Classy Pal, we want you and your loved one to live life well and to the fullest. We are proud to make products that support an independent and active lifestyle. If you find that your loved one is struggling, know that help is available. Your healthcare provider can help you locate mental health resources in your area.
To learn more about depression and mental health issues, you can visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s website at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.
1. Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older. (2019, June 7). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/mentalhealth/depression.htm
2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC:Author.