Though most Canadian older adults report having good psychological health, the risk of mental health issues increases as we age due to life transitions such as chronic illness, mobility issues, caring for a spouse, and the death of a partner and other loved ones.
Addressing issues early is crucial, but you don’t need to wait till you get that bridge to cross it, so to speak. There are ways to boost mental health in seniors to reduce the risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety or improve outcomes for seniors who may already be struggling.
In honor of Mental Health Week, we’ve rounded up 5 proven ways to improve mental health in seniors.
Volunteer your time
Helping others helps you, too, according to research which shows that volunteering has numerous mental health benefits, particularly for seniors because it offers a way to stay connected to others. People who volunteer experience improved life satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem, and lower psychological distress and depressive symptoms.
There are endless volunteering opportunities available for older adults, including virtual volunteering from home, such as:
- Mentoring youth
- Friendly callers support
- Telephone fundraising
To find an organization, you can do a quick online search of volunteer opportunities for seniors or contact your local church or community center.
For seniors aging in place, an in-home care provider such as Living Assistance Services, can help with transportation to and from volunteering outside of the house or with setting up online and telephone calls for the care recipient.
There is no doubt that mental and physical health is fundamentally linked. Having poor mental health increases the risk for chronic health conditions. On the flipside, having a mental health condition puts you at higher risk for chronic physical health conditions.
Exercising boosts the production of endorphins and other feel-good chemicals that lower stress and anxiety, reduce depressive symptoms, and improve your mood, and help you sleep better. And all it takes is 30 minutes!
If able, get out for a walk on your own, with a friend or loved one, or an in-home caregiver. For those with mobility issues, seated exercises can give you the mental health benefits while helping improve circulation and strength.
Care for a pet
Having a pet has been shown to increase happiness and decrease loneliness in people of all ages. Pet owners also experience health benefits like improved heart health and better fitness, too.
There are extra benefits for older adults who care for a pet because of the daily routine it provides. Pets also provide seniors with emotional support and give them something to talk about, which can help connect with others and make friends.
An older adult can reap the health benefits of a pet regardless of the type of pet, making it a possibility for anyone. If unable to have a cat or a dog due to pet regulations in a building, consider a fish! If mobility issues are a concern, an in-home caregiver can help with feeding and walking so that the care recipient can still enjoy the love and companionship of an animal.
Our social networks tend to dwindle as we age, which is why senior loneliness and isolation is so prevalent. Adult children often move away and are busy with careers and their own children, friends become ill or pass away, and illness or age-related changes affect mobility and independence.
Remaining socially connected is crucial for the mental well-being of older adults and worth the effort of trying to make new friends and interacting with others in person and virtually.
Joining a club, participating in seniors or community events, going to church, and getting out and about to meet up with a friend are just some ways to stay social.
For adults who are bedridden or have difficulty leaving the house, an in-house caregiver makes for great companionship and can help arrange other social activities, such as preparing a meal to share with a visiting friend or family member or by providing transportation to social outings.
Take care of your spiritual well-being
This suggestion comes from the Canadian Mental Health Association which says that spirituality can provide us with meaning and solace, help us overcome challenges, and help us build connections with others.
The way to achieve spiritual well-being is to learn to be at peace with who you are and how we do this doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. For some, it’s about religion, but for others it simply involves living with purpose and finding solace in activities that make us happy.
Some ways to take care of your spiritual well-being:
- Attend a religious service (in-person or virtually)
- Practice deep breathing or meditation
- Spend some time outdoors
- Do some gardening
Good mental health translates to a better quality of life and improved physical health. This is something older adults can work towards on their own or with the help of loved ones and/or a professional caregiver, and if needed, their doctor and a mental health care professional.
About Pets and People. (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html
Mental Health for Life. https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/mental-health-for-life/
Yeung, J.W.K., Zhang, Z. & Kim, T.Y. Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms. (2018). https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-017-4561-8