Many seniors suffer from depression caused by a number of lifestyle factors. Does it have to be this way? Or can the way people approach old age, physically and mentally, lead to positive aging?
Physical health improves mental health
Science has found evidence linking physical health to mental health. Without mental health, there can be no true physical health. Getting older brings challenges, such as declining physical strength and mobility, which can seem like a barrier to staying fit. However, there are workarounds that allow older adults to stay active. For example, aerobic exercise is great for brain function, but doing it in water can reduce the impact on muscles and joints. For those with limited mobility, chair exercise routines are a great way to increase heart rate and strengthen the upper body. And a gentle walk outside will do a world of good.
What you eat affects your mood
What we put inside our bodies also affects our mental well-being. A healthy, balanced diet helps people feel better overall. Some foods can also improve mood. For example, omega-3 fatty acids from fish and zinc and B vitamins from fruits like bananas can help improve depressed moods. And cutting back on foods like starchy carbohydrates can also help. Some older people may think it’s time to be cautious and have a mid-week drink or smoke cigarettes without fear of dying young. The fact is that these products are bad for your health and can also contribute to a lowered mood if consumed too frequently.
Stay connected with family and friends
Loneliness and isolation probably have the biggest impact on low mood in older adults. Too much time spent alone can have this effect on anyone at any age, as humans are inherently social creatures. However, it is more common in older people for adult children to move away or become busy with a career and for their own children, partners to die or friends to move away. One way to counteract these effects is to get out as much as possible. Joining new social groups or community activities is a great way to make new friends with similar interests at a similar time in life as you. If mobility is an issue, technology can save the day. Seniors may not have grown up as “digital natives,” but local classes or young friends may be available to help. Technology enables face-to-face messaging and phone calls via smartphones as well as mindfulness apps, medication reminders and safety alarms. And websites are full of advice and support forums.
Keep your mind engaged
Small daily actions to keep the mind engaged and active are vital to prolonging brain function and memory as well as keeping depression at bay. Reading, writing and mental puzzles like crossword puzzles and Sudoku are fun and don’t require much energy if physical ability is a barrier. Having a sense of purpose and goals is also important for self-esteem and mental well-being. If your senior has good mobility, activities such as volunteering, tutoring and traveling are great ways to stimulate the mind and increase social interaction.
Practice a positive attitude
It’s hard to just “think happy thoughts,” especially if your senior is suffering or isolated. But the fact remains that we need to practice certain thought patterns so that they become routine. Encourage your senior to practice gratitude and surround themselves with people who lift their spirits. Being optimistic, making exciting plans, bypassing negative thought spirals, keeping a sense of humor and reducing stress will all help them live life more positively.