Most people are aware of how aging affects the body. What is less obvious is the effect aging can have on our emotions. Although older adults tend to have better emotional regulation than their younger counterparts, they often have stronger emotional responses to relevant negative incidents, such as loss or injustice. Not only that, but isolation, dementia, and coming to terms with one’s mortality can all take a toll on a person’s mood. As such, no conversation about improving senior quality of life is complete without considering how to improve the emotional health of seniors.
Challenges, such as disabilities, illness, living alone, or being unable to travel easily—issues common to many seniors—make it challenging to meet with others. These circumstances drive many seniors into positions of isolation, and isolation has a much more severe effect on our wellbeing than many of us realize. Loneliness drives up the rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide and dramatically increases the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Even more striking is the impact of loneliness on the risk of death. Many professionals consider the loneliness of a person to be as sure of a predictor of mortality as smoking or alcohol consumption.
Of course, combatting isolation is especially difficult at such a time as this. But here are a few things that seniors can do to cultivate relationships:
- Join a community activity
- Utilize transportation services
- Share meals
- Adopt a pet
Engage the Mind
When we think of boredom, we don’t usually think of mental health issues. But pervasive boredom can lead to an increase in anxiety and depression. It allows the mind time to dwell on distressing thoughts and makes one feel purposeless. Finding activities to engage the mind (and not simply distract it) helps improve mood, memory, focus, and problem-solving skills. Instead of tuning in to another rerun, try to find a mind game or mentally stimulating hobby like reading or journaling. Picking up a new skill like a language can also help engage the mind and improve emotional health for seniors.
Manage Physical Symptoms
No one enjoys being in pain, and after a while, chronic pain can take a toll on anyone’s emotional health. While trying to live an entirely pain-free life may be unrealistic, you can take steps to improve physical health and wellbeing. For instance, if certain foods make symptoms flare up, try to adjust your diet accordingly. Performing light exercise improves joint and bone health. And if you are in a situation where disabilities leave you immobile or even bedbound, make sure your caregivers know how to provide adequate care.
Too often, people underestimate or unappreciated older adults because they are no longer working. But that doesn’t mean that they do not have something to offer the world around them. These are the types of thoughts that lead to hopelessness. Take time to learn new things, create art, and connect with others. Remind yourself that you’re alive—and that you have something to offer the world.