By 2050, the WHO expects the senior population to balloon from its current 12% to 22%–that’s 900 million older adults aged 60 and above increasing to a whopping 2 billion after 30 years.
But the surging population of elderlies benefits society as they continue contributing towards its progress. This includes their efforts to participate in volunteering programs, social events, and as part of the familial institution.
The bad part here is the increasing percentage of seniors suffering from mental health disorders.
Most older adults aged 60 and above live with excellent mental health, but 15% of their population has an ongoing battle against one or two mental illnesses. Some of the most common causes of developing it can include the following:
- Loss of a loved one
- Financial difficulties
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- An underlying chronic condition, such as dementia and cancer.
- Physical disability like loss of mobility, hearing, and vision problems.
- Medication side effects
- Dementia-causing illness.
As can be seen, two risk factors involve dementia, which is why caregivers and family members need to increase awareness and remove the stigma associated with the mental health of seniors in memory care.
Further, mental health treatment plans should be a part of memory care services offered in such facilities.
Understanding Mental Health: What is Mental Illness?
Mental illnesses pertain to a wide range of health conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, emotions, and perception. It also greatly interferes with their day-to-day life, making it almost impossible to function properly.
Contrary to popular belief, mental illness is common to seniors, especially those battling dementia and other brain disorders. It’s just not identified by healthcare providers and the seniors themselves.
Family caregivers may observe mental health problems in loved ones but may not recognize them as a symptom of mental disease due to lack of awareness. Some seniors may know that they suffer from a mental issue but refuse to acknowledge it or seek help for various reasons.
A mental disorder is a product of multiple factors, such as an unhealthy lifestyle, genetics, or traumatic events. Vulnerability increases as seniors get exposed to their triggers, chronic stress, physical, emotional, and social traumas.
Caregivers and family members should observe senior loved ones for early warning signs of a possible mental illness. Some common signs are:
- Sudden sleep and appetite change.
- Loss of interest in favorite activities.
- Withdrawal from friends and social events.
- Mood changes
- Neglecting personal care.
- Increased sensitivity and irritability.
- Apathy or being disconnected from others.
- Illogical or pessimistic thinking.
These warning signs can only indicate unhealthy mental well-being and won’t necessarily diagnose a senior with a specific mental disorder. You should take your loved one or patient to the care of a psychiatrist to know if a mental illness plagues their mind.
Some of the most common mental illnesses in seniors include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
4 Ways to Improve the Mental Health of Seniors in Memory Care
Fortunately, most memory care services offered by senior facilities also work to improve the mental well-being of seniors with dementia. By providing strong psychological and social support, seniors can push through their mental illness and even prevent one from ever developing in the first place.
Besides regular psych check-ups, here are some ways on how you can improve their mental health.
1. Get Physical
Exercise benefits not only the physical body but also your mind. Research suggests that it enhances the mood and boosts self-esteem and confidence. Staying active also improves brain health by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients there. Thus, slowing down their dementia symptoms and cognitive aging.
Seniors should only engage in low-impact exercises like walking and stretching. Further, they should wait for the go-signal of their doctors before doing any workout program.
2. Stimulate the Mind
Stimulating the mind not only pertains to keeping the brain active by playing puzzles or reading a book. It also means strengthening it through meditation.
Over time, meditation improves cognitive functions of the brain like thinking, concentration, attention, and even memory. But more importantly, it makes the mind stronger by lowering the levels of stress and anxiety, both of which trigger most of the behavioral symptoms of dementia.
Memory care services practice meditation through yoga, tai chi, mantra meditation, and mindfulness meditation. Family caregivers can also practice it in their homes by looking for a reliable online guide.
3. Be Socially Connected
Social relationships play a huge role in keeping stable and healthy mental health. The connections you build protect you from mental stressors and help you recover from mental episode attacks.
Further, it prevents feelings of social isolation, which is a major trigger for most mental illnesses. So, encourage seniors to remain socially connected to their family and friends. Gradually coax them into meeting close family members and maintain healthy communication with them.
Here are some activities that you can arrange so your senior patient or loved one can socialize:
- Participate in social activities and events to meet other community residents.
- Join in family programs organized by the memory care facility.
- Urge loved ones to visit your senior as much as possible.
- Maintain healthy and constant communication with loved ones through technological means.
- Caregivers can also form a meaningful bond with their patients. They can have a conversation or bond over afternoon snacks.
4. Participating in Activities
Healthy activities and hobbies are part of the memory care services that a facility offers. They make sure that seniors find hobbies to fill their days and enrich their lives. These activities are inclusive and accommodate every resident’s lifestyle and health condition.
Some of the best activities they usually offer are as follows:
- Creative arts so seniors can explore their artistic side.
- Book clubs for the avid reader.
- Happy hours where elderlies can play card games, puzzles, bingo, and chess.
- Fun day trips and excursions.
- Writing and poetry making
- Gardening activities for the green thumb at heart.
- Virtual traveling or exploration using technological devices.
Nothing can boost mental health more than living a healthy and enjoyable life to the fullest. Even with dementia, seniors can still do it with the help of caregivers, loved ones, and the best memory care services.