No matter what age we are, living a life of purpose, connection and joy are critical for our physical and mental wellbeing. For older adults, a variety of obstacles like vision loss, social isolation, hearing loss, mobility problems, and memory issues can make enjoying life more difficult.
Why is it important for seniors to focus on their mental health?
- Socially isolated seniors have a 59% greater risk of mental and physical decline than those who do not experience social isolation (Forbes).
- The health effects of social isolation and loneliness on seniors are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day (AARP.org).
- Depression in the elderly is associated with an increased risk of cardiac diseases and risk of death from illness (WebMD).
Improving Quality of Life
For older adults that want to improve their quality of life through enhanced mental health, there are many things they can do to kick off their healthy habits.
Exercise– Seniors should always consult with a physician before starting any physical activity or fitness program. Seniors that are able, and approved, to exercise may see increased physical and mental wellness. Exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on the brain.
Connection– At any age, many people find joy in spending time with family and friends. Social isolation often is a problem for seniors that have mobility issues, can’t drive, or who have loved ones that live far away. There are services that can help overcome these issues, including transportation help, in-home care assistance, technology that fosters connection, and other outside sources of help. We regularly write an “Out and About Twin Cities” section to help families find things to do together that include information for seniors that have mobility issues.
Volunteering– Sharing time and talents doing volunteer work can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Many organizations have programs and volunteer opportunities specifically geared to older adults.
Spending time on joyful activities– Everyone has a different interest or hobby that brings joy, whether that’s music, art, dance, gardening or games. Seniors should try to spend time doing something that brings them happiness on a daily basis to improve their quality of life.
Mental Health and PTSD in Seniors
Many people have negative feelings after experiencing a traumatic event. However, when these negative feelings last for a long period of time, cause someone to relive the trauma or have daily impacts, that person could be suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For seniors, it’s not uncommon for symptoms of PTSD to be a result of traumatic events that happened earlier in their lives or to occur after a major fall, a heart attack, or other serious health events.
For seniors with PTSD, symptoms can include flashbacks, depression or anger, fear, self-isolation, outbursts, or trouble sleeping. These symptoms can be difficult to identify or be mistaken for other age-related conditions.
There are treatment options for seniors experiencing PTSD. It is recommended that anyone experiencing PTSD symptoms consult their physician to establish a plan of treatment to successfully manage symptoms.
- Lifestyle changes– for some, keeping active and engaged can help manage PTSD symptoms. This can include anything from starting a physician-approved exercise regimen, volunteering, getting involved in community activities, or finding ways to increase mental stimulation.
- Medicine– there are medications that can help seniors with PTSD. For seniors that are prescribed medication, it’s important to schedule regular check-ins with a physician and to be open about the positive and negative effects of medications.
- Therapy– Individual or group therapy can be a great resource for seniors with PTSD. There are multiple types of therapy, with different goals and methods for each. Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and Stress Inoculation are types of therapy specifically created to help with PTSD symptoms. Seniors that are interested in starting therapy should talk to their doctor about the type of program that might work for them.
- Sharing experiences– talking about the traumatic event that caused the PTSD can also bring relief and foster connections that may be beneficial for a senior’s physical and mental health. This can be a conversation with a friend or joining a support group – it’s important for people to share in an environment where they feel supported and understood. It can be difficult for someone with PTSD to talk about their experiences, but for many, this may be a necessary step for managing symptoms.
For additional information on PTSD in seniors, check here.
Remember to consider mental health as one of the key contributors we have to a well-balanced and happy life. It’s often a great idea to consider what may be at the core of any issues you may be encountering that are preventing you from enjoying a joyful life.
Science Daily/McMaster University. “Working it Out: Researchers find exercise may help fight depression in seniors.” Web. 2019.
WebMD. “Depression in the Elderly.” Web.
Healthline. “Geriatric Depression (Depression in Older Adults).” Web.
Mayo Clinic. “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Web. 2018.
Psychiatric Times. “PTSD in Late Life: Special Issues.” Web. 2018.
American Psychiatric Association. “What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Web. 2013
Everyday Health. “When a Health Crisis Leads to PTSD.” Web. 2012.
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