Taking good care of your mental health and wellbeing as an older adult is just as crucial as keeping your physical health in check. You need to have your emotional and social needs met in order to avoid mental health issues such as boredom, isolation, loneliness, depression, and vulnerability that might trigger physical health issues.
The mind, after all, has a powerful hold over the body. Unlike physical ailments, however, it is not always easy to spot when a person is struggling with psychological problems which can pose greater health risks.
Mental Health and Seniors
According to the World Health Organization, at least 20 percent of adults above 60 years old develop some type of mental health issue due to a lack of emotional and social support. The most common are depression, anxiety, feelings of self-harm, and substance abuse problems.
Some of the major emotional and social stressors for seniors include:
- Losing a friend or loved one due to death or relocation
- Experiencing isolation because the children have grown up and are living their own lives
- Feeling inadequate because of retirement from work and the absence of routine activities
- Feeling inadequate due to the loss of financial dependence as there is no more regular income coming in
- Feeling frustrated for being diagnosed with many ailments and the increasing need for maintenance medications
- Having difficulties in coping with physical changes due to aging, i.e. hearing loss
Impact of Social Interaction in Seniors
A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior indicated that seniors who have medium or high levels of social activity have lowered risks of ending up at the doctor’s office. Experts noted that seniors who maintain regular interactions with friends or family seem healthier or show a slow decline in their overall health.
Improved Cognitive Function
One benefit to staying socially active as a senior is it boosts your cognitive function and memory, which can potentially curb the development of Alzheimer’s disease and similar neurological ailments.
A study conducted in a senior facility showed that older adults who took part in social activities, such as a simple game of cards or chess, had higher episodic memory and stronger short-term memory because the seniors’ minds were always engaged when they are with groups of people.
Improved Physical Activity
Being socially active means getting out of your house more often. Instead of staying isolated in your room and spending the day sedentary, you actually will yourself to move about when you are with friends or family.
Some seniors who are experiencing mobility problems, such as a bad knee caused by osteoarthritis, might find it hard to go out and socialize. Aside from mobility aids like crutches, canes, and walkers, using a knee support to stabilize your knee and help make walking easier and pain-free can give you the encouragement you need to stay active.
Participants in one study of the effects of social activity on physical health indicated that they gained more strength and endurance as well as improved their sleep cycle because of having regular meetups and engaging in sports activities with friends.
How to be Socially Active as a Senior
There are hundreds of ways to keep a busy social calendar as a senior and it doesn’t always have to involve spending lots of money. On the contrary, it mainly involves self-motivation and proper time management.
- Schedule a weekly or bi-weekly meetup dedicated solely to visits to your children and grandchildren. Dine together or go on a fun excursion, i.e. to a museum.
- Volunteer at a community center once a week to meet new people. You might be surprised that it can be a satisfying and rewarding experience for the soul.
- Pursue a hobby and take a specialized class for it, such as learning a new language, mastering a new craft, or taking dancing lessons.
- Take early morning walks three times a week with other seniors in your neighborhood. Take it a step further and organize a Zumba session or other similar activities.
- Plan a game of golf, bowling, or tennis with your senior friends or former colleagues at work.
- Use technology to keep in touch, such as a home phone service app. These days, there are many platforms that cater to different types of users, including seniors.
- Find clubs you can participate and interact with online. Once in a while, these clubs actually organize events so you can enjoy activities in real-time.
- Turn to support groups if you’re struggling with other mental health issues. Talking your feelings over with someone will help you feel less alone.
If you live alone and not in a facility, consider hiring a caregiver not only to help you around the house but also to keep you company and go with you to these social activities.