Promoting Mental Health in Seniors: Strategies for Effective SupportSeptember 9, 2023
Promoting Mental Health in Seniors: Strategies for Effective Support
According to a study by the National Institute of Health, 14.5% of adults over 50 are living with some sort of mental health issue. Especially following the global pandemic, this statistic has only risen. Social isolation, which is something older adults are already more likely to experience, created higher rates of depression and anxiety.
The accuracy of these numbers is often speculated, as senior citizens are less likely to report mental health problems. This is primarily due to the stigmas carried by their generation. Mental illnesses can plague physical ones, however, so promoting mental health in seniors is essential to promoting their overall well-being. As a caregiver for your elderly loved one, you should develop effective strategies to support your loved one so that when problems arise, you’re already prepared.
Strategies for effective support
If you recognize a decline in your senior’s mental health, don’t wait too long for it to pass. Our moods fluctuate on a daily basis, of course, but a serious change that lasts for a period of days may mean it’s time to speak with them.
Set aside time to speak openly and honestly
It isn’t easy to talk about such serious topics. You may be inclined to spring the question on them while the two of you are doing a mundane activity, but this environment isn’t conducive to a fruitful conversation. Set aside time when you are both free to speak in a distraction-free environment.
Encourage them to share as much, or as little, as they’d like, and actively listen to what they say. This is especially crucial when speaking to those experiencing cognitive decline, as these individuals may struggle to express themselves as clearly as they once did. Repeat back to them what they’ve said to help ensure that you understood, and try not to get frustrated if they tell you that you are wrong.
Let them know there is no shame in needing help
Whether your loved one is willing to lay everything out on the table or only shares a few words with you, stress to them that there is nothing wrong with asking for and receiving help. It’s possible all they need is to discuss what is troubling them for a little while. However, it is equally possible they need professional help. Let them know this is totally normal and that mental health resources exist for a reason.
Even if they don’t seek professional help, it can be reassuring to hear that help is out there. Similarly, being told that you are there for them as needed can lift a weight off their shoulders.
Talk to them about exercising self-care
After years of caring for others, your elderly loved one may feel strange focusing on their own needs. Many people have the unfortunate misconception that taking care of oneself is selfish. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Self-care is necessary to feel mentally and physically well.
Inform them that self-care isn’t just buying something they’d like (though that can be part of it). It refers to eating well, exercising, getting a good night’s rest, and reducing stress.
Things you can do to promote mental health in seniors
If your loved one is struggling with their mental health, encourage them to seek professional help. However, there are things you can do to help ease their burden.
Respect their autonomy
Sometimes, especially as you first start caring for an elderly loved one, you may feel inclined to take over all of their activities of daily living. This, however, can lead them to feel they don’t have control over their lives, which can be detrimental to their self-esteem. Only assist them with the activities they request so they feel like an active participant in their own life.
Create avenues for socialization
Just because you are providing care for your loved one, it does not mean you are actually spending time together. Humans are naturally social creatures, yet seniors are more likely to feel isolated from others. Encourage socialization in you elderly loved one by making time to enjoy their favorite hobbies together.
Classes are also a great way to get your elderly loved one socially active and help them meet new people. Alternatively, you can promote social connections by assisting them with social media. On these platforms, they can connect with old friends and family members.
Find a new hobby
Having an avenue of self-expression can be relieving for seniors. Encourage your loved one to pick up a new hobby—whether that is painting, physical activity, or decoupage. In doing so, your loved one is also promoting their cognitive health, as practicing hobbies builds new neural connections and can even help with hand-eye coordination (depending on the activity).
Receive support through home care
Despite how you want to be there for your elderly loved one, there may be certain times when life gets in the way. When these instances arise, consider hiring the help of an at-home caregiver. These professionals gladly assist with the activities of daily living your loved one needs to remain at home—from personal care to companionship.
If you have an elderly loved one who requires assistance in the greater Chicago area, Home Care Powered by AUAF can help. Give us a call at 773-274-9262 to learn more about how our program could improve their quality of life.
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