- While it’s normal to worry about the physical threats to our aging loved ones, we must also remember the struggles they face mentally and emotionally.
- Two common mental health issues among the elderly are depression and anxiety, of which can stem from loneliness, a fear of dying, or physical pain/discomfort.
- We can all help our aging loved ones stay happy and healthy by encouraging participation in hobbies, groups/social activities, and anything that brings a smile to their face.
- Think back to hobbies your loved one used to enjoy and see if you can revitalize their love for that activity; if they’re no longer interested, introduce them to a new beloved hobby.
- Help them find a supportive base of people or be that supportive base yourself; accompany them to social events and remember to call them!
- Finally, do what you can to make them smile and laugh—whether that means taking them to a comedy show, watching a funny movie with them, or simply cracking a few jokes.
Many people worry about their aging loved ones—parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We fear the “worst” from heart attacks to memory loss to life-threatening falls. But we often forget to concern ourselves with their mental health and emotional wellbeing: which is equally important to their physical health.
The Elderly’s Struggle with Depression and Anxiety
When it comes to mental health, the elderly often struggle with two mental illnesses that are common among other demographics as well: depression and anxiety. Dr. Sidney Cohen, a psychologist, explains where exactly these illnesses stem from when it comes to this population in specific:
“Depression and anxiety are certainly two common clinical problems experienced by this population. The depression can especially stem from feelings of loneliness, frustration, and discouragement over increasing physical limitations, and grieving the loss of significant loved ones. The anxiety can especially surround fear of dying, being abandoned, and/or excessive physical pain and discomfort. And in some instances, the issue of dementia and signs of Alzheimer’s can certainly be quite psychologically distressing as well.”
Help Your Aging Loved Ones Live Better: 3 Keys
The good news is that action can be taken to manage and resolve the harmful feelings that come with depression and anxiety—but your wise loved one might need your help and motivation to accomplish this mission:
“In regards to treatment, the key is to encourage and reinforce the elderly individual’s strengths and resources, particularly in regards to what is in their control to still do to enjoy their lives as best as possible,” Cohen explains. “This can include encouraging participation in hobbies, group/social activities, and anything the person finds funny enough to get a good laugh about.” Let’s break these down and brainstorm some clear ideas for restoring their love for life:
1) Encourage participation in hobbies.
What hobbies do they love? What hobbies did they used to love? Maybe they used to play the piano for all of their dinner guests, or you used to do puzzles together during your visits. Remind them of their favorite pastimes and encourage them to pick up these hobbies again. Or, help them find a new hobby they love! Introduce them to your favorite book, teach them how to cross-stitch, lend them your guitar. And see if any magic happens.
2) Get them involved in group/social activities.
Our social networks play an important role in our mental wellbeing: socializing with others has proven to boost mood both during and after the social interaction. Furthermore, having a supportive group of people to consult and connect with is vital to our health. Make sure the elderly in your life are involved with social activities and do your best to call them often to provide further support and social reinforcement.
3) Make them laugh.
Finally, do what you can to brighten their day and make them laugh. This might involve taking them to a comedy show, putting on a funny show like The Office, or simply telling a few lighthearted jokes yourself. Whatever it takes to bring a smile to their face. They’ll experience those benefits of socializing and the benefits that comes from laughing like a decrease in stress hormones.