A healthy balance of physical exercise, mental stimulation and social interactions is a great way to inspire wellness in seniors. For many seniors, they feel aches and pains in their body and this can translate into to the mind. They may feel less confident or feel isolated if they stay at home all day and not interact with others. They may begin to worry more about their physical and mental capabilities – They may not want to go out due to the fact that they feel they can keep up or do things they once were able to do. Or complain that their memory isn’t what it used to be and begin to feel down on themselves. This can be troubling for the loved one, their family or caregiver.
What can you do to help get them out of this funk and inspire wellness?
- Change the Environment
- Spiritual – Purpose in life, God or higher power
- Social – Interactions with family and friends
- Emotional – Feelings
- Intellectual/Vocational – Education, Creativity/Talent or passion
Change the Environment:
One of the first things most commonly given as advice is to get them out of the house. A change of scenery to get some fresh air or exercise can be very beneficial for seniors emotional and mental health. Changing the environment can stimulate the brain and senses including improving a negative perspective.
Depression or signs of depression can appear in different ways. Many times, you may see that they isolate themselves, not wanting to be around others or may appear to be sad, lonely or even angry and irritable. This would be the time to reach out to them. Ask if they want to go for a walk or drive. Take them out for lunch or a special drink. By changing the environment, they may open up and talk to you about their troubles. This can be cathartic, helping them feel less isolated and help to feel that someone cares to listen. If they are feeling down, doing something new can help brighten their day and help you, a family member or caregiver to gain some insight into their current feelings.
An additional environmental change is to make sure their surroundings are free and clear of clutter, trash or tripping hazards. Helping them to care for their surroundings can give them a boost of energy inspiring motivation for healthy habits.
Another area most professionals recommend is exercise. Exercise has many proven benefits for seniors. Choosing to live a healthy, active lifestyle can reduce many different types of medical conditions such as hypertension, osteoporosis, obesity, including many others. Exercise can improve balance, coordination, blood circulation and decrease the risk of falls or other related injuries. It can have many mental health benefits as well, reducing depression, stress, improving anxiety and mental fatigue.
Many seniors have probably heard a few times in their life that exercise is good for their health, but may not have the motivation. First begin asking what they currently do to stay active and encourage daily walks or more movement by putting into a daily schedule.
The National Institute on Aging has a few great ideas to encourage seniors to exercise:
- Whenever appropriate, let them know that regular physical activity—including endurance, muscle-strengthening, balance, and flexibility exercises—is essential for healthy aging.
- Help patients set realistic goals and develop an exercise plan.
- Write an exercise prescription, and make it specific, including type, frequency, intensity, and time; follow up to check progress and re-evaluate goals over time.
- Refer patients to community resources, such as mall-walking groups and senior center fitness classes.
- Talk to them about Go4Life, NIA’s exercise and physical activity campaign. It has exercises, motivational tips, virtual coaches, shared stories and free materials to help older adults start exercising and keep going. Visit www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life.
Nutrition plays a huge role in a seniors physical and emotional health. If they have a poor diet or eating habits this can decrease their energy, cause a change of weight, and not receive the proper vitamins and minerals for brain and body health. Poor eating habits can develop due to many reasons. Depending on health or activity level, a senior could have a problem standing for long periods, driving to the super market or carrying a number of grocery bags, have a limited amount of money to spend on ingredients, or have a decrease in motivation to cook more quality meals. The great thing is that there is a number of resources to help improve a seniors diet. There are meal kits that are delivered directly to the home, or grocery stores can provide drop off services. If they live in assisted living or a nursing facility then they should be having a well balanced diet if the meals are provided to them or at least the options will be there for them to choose from a more well balanced meal. Older patients may develop poor eating habits for many reasons.
Encourage small changes to promote healthy nutrition. There are a number of small changes that can build to have a good impact on their overall health and well-being. This includes:
- Discussing their options with their primary doctor on multivitamins or liquid supplements that include all of the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals they need.
- Seek nutrition services program, such as Meals on Wheels. Programs in your area are provided by the local Area Agency on Aging or Tribal Senior Services. Contact the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for your Area Agency on Aging.
- Suggest NIA’s information on healthy eating for older adults.
Spiritual – Purpose in life, God or higher power
There are ties to spirituality and emotional well-being. Each influences the other in a spectrum of overall positive well-being. Spirituality seeks a meaningful connection with something bigger than oneself. This can encourage a number of positive emotions, such as peace, contentment, gratitude, acceptance and overall positive well-being.
Emotional well-being is striving to cultivate a positive mindset and becoming mindful of the bigger picture instead of focusing on current troubles. Both these traits are linked together and will help a senior to feel more balanced, content and acceptance of life circumstances in their later stage of life.
Social – Interactions with family and friends
The quality of family relationships provides social support in the form of providing love, guidance, emotional and physical care), as well as strain (e.g., arguments, being overly critical and demanding). Family social support can provide emotional wellness for seniors through a variety of areas including peer groups, behavior and emotional challenges.
“Parents, grandparents, and children often provide care for each other at different points in the life course, which can contribute to social support, stress, and social control mechanisms that influence the health and well-being of each in important ways over the life course” (Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2003; Pinquart & Soerensen, 2007; Reczek, Thomeer, et al., 2014). If parents raise their children to learn coping skills that reduce the impact of stress in communicating their feelings, then as parents and their children age to a new generation, seniors or grandparents can continue to help provide wisdom and their children are more apt to provide better care giving compared to those with strained relationships.
“Family relationships may become even more important to well-being as individuals age, needs for care giving increase, and social ties in other domains such as the workplace become less central in their lives” (Milkie, Bierman, & Schieman, 2008).
Emotional – Feelings
The Age Well Study from the Mather Lifeways Institute on Aging defines emotional wellness as the ability to manage feelings, communicate those feelings to others, solve problems, and control stress. Emotional wellness can affect many areas of life, including relationships, overall mental health, and the ability to deal with daily stress.
Reducing stress is one of the most important things you can do to improve your mental health. While stress is a normal part of life, chronic stress can cause physical ailments or worsen symptoms. Seniors should consider hobbies or activities that involving reducing stress practices. Examples include art therapy, reading, meditation, chair yoga classes, joining a church group for active seniors or taking walks outside.
Seniors experience a reduction in the need for sleep but getting enough sleep is crucial to improve physical and mental health symptoms. With limited sleep, the mind can become overwhelmed more easily, losing focus and coordination can be inhibited, which can increase the risk for falls or injuries. Spending time taking time for self care is important in emotional wellbeing. Additional areas are social connections with family, friends and professionals to boost mental care and emotional wellbeing.
Intellectual/Vocational – Education, Creativity/Talent or passion
Creativity is a key piece of the wellness puzzle. Focusing on an enjoyable activity can reduce stress, enhance mood and can release deep subconscious emotions. Creative activities can decrease depressive symptoms and reduce anxiety. If your senior loved one is struggling with downsizing or moving into a new residence (assisted living, nursing facility or moving in with family), then it may be a good opportunity to begin looking into options for them to engage in artistic pursuits to inspire an emotional wellness plan.