Imagine turning 65 years old and recognising how precious life is. You reflect on your contributions in making your and your loved ones’ lives worthwhile and acknowledge that you are now full of experience, knowledge and compassion. But what next? How can you live the next phase of your life with the utmost zest and happiness?
Taking Care of Your Mental Health As You Age
To begin with, take care of your mental health— here are some tips:
1. Pick up a new hobby: “To play and relax” is important and hobbies help us achieve this. In old age, hobbies can help to improve memory and motor functions, whilst at the same time working wonders for stress relief. Indoor activities like taking care of a pet, knitting, painting, playing a musical instrument or doing yoga, as well as outdoor activities such as walking, swimming, taichi, bird watching, gardening and doing community work are just a few activities that can positively affect mood, motor and cognitive functioning. These activities help us to get in touch with our inner selves and explore and express feelings without any content creation.
2. Socialise and make new friends: “ Maintaining friends and social relationships” is essential for our emotional wellbeing as it validates the core human need of belongingness and validation. Research shows that elderly loneliness can cause heart disease, dementia, and depression. It helps the elderly to actively engage with both their peers and people younger than them. A few ideas to do this include nurturing your passions and engaging in situations where there are people around you. Smile and laugh more, nurture existing relationships and be open to the new: this could include taking advantage of technology and apps such as Facebook and Whatsapp to connect with more people and form new groups.
3. Make amends with relatives and practice gratitude and laughter: Through my experience in psychotherapy with the elderly, I have observed that old arguments and disagreements can often be a major cause of stress, impacting one’s mental and physical health. A way to help tackle this is by engaging in positive, strengthening self-talk such as “forget or forgive” and “bury the hatchet”. Furthermore, meet up and chat with people whom you have lost connection with. Make connections via phone call, and/or arrange a meeting with a common friend. Have a good laugh about the past and look for something good to focus on.
Mental Health Tips to Help the Elderly
Old age, just like any other phase in life, comes with challenges and changes that require openness, acceptance, and flexibility. There is a decline in physical health and cognitive ability, as well as, in some cases, social isolation. Often, there is also an increased need for validation and recognition. Below are a few easy-to-practice home therapy methods that others can use to help the elderly.
1. Reminiscence Therapy: Old age is a stage during which one starts to reflect on their past life and analyse successes and failures. Often, talking about these is helpful to explore one’s feelings. It is noted that among the elderly, talking about the past helps to provide joy and confidence, which in turn is helpful in reducing day-to-day stress. To help the elderly along this process, we can bring up old memories. We can focus conversations on happy moments and milestones such as childbirth, marriage, jobs, achievements, support, and contributions in life. You can also look through photos, keepsakes, and magazines. Show them old albums, watch family videos, put their favourite music on at home during teatime, and enjoy tactile activities like painting, pottery, or other crafts.
2. Laughter Therapy: Laughter increases respiratory rate, blood flow and the release of adrenaline in the blood. This helps to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, creating significant physical and psychological benefits. Furthermore, much research has proved that laughter helps decrease death anxiety, depression and anxiety, and levels of loneliness. It can help to improve sleep among the elderly, promoting vitality and happiness. To engage with the elderly and make them laugh, encourage them to join a laughter club, practice self-talk, be silly, put on happy songs, organise a themed outing and impromptu dancing sessions or play fun games with them. Involve them in your life by narrating embarrassing and silly moments of the day to them. Every now and then, send them jokes and silly videos. Celebrate a grandparent in the family and engage children to do activities with them.
3. Gratitude therapy: Feeling relaxed and optimistic, having deeper relationships, and experiencing increased energy are just a few of the many benefits of practising gratitude. To help the elderly in your care practice, take them out on a mindful walk, encouraging them to notice details like flowers or smells in the air. Practice guided meditation with them by going down a memory lane of positive events and helping them reach a level of acceptance with their failures. While doing this, make eye contact, smile and compliment them. Avoid watching pessimistic movies and watch inspiring videos instead. Look for small opportunities of praising other people while with them, and encourage and support them to spend time helping others.
To find out more, here are some additional resources:
If you would like to learn more about elderly mental health, please contact Ms Ritu Verma here. Ms Ritu Verma is a registered clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience in working with children, adults, elderly and families for a variety of mental health needs.