Mental Health for Seniors – Simple Ways To Stay Positive

If your idea of retirement means sitting around, watching TV and not doing anything much, think again. A sedentary lifestyle could be bad for your mental health! As such, the key priority for seniors is to stay socially active to stimulate good mental health.

6 Simple Ways To Boost Senior's Mental Health

Seniors with good mental health are less vulnerable to age-related cognitive impairment diseases. On the other side, poor mental health affects a senior’s ability to think and reason, interact with others and manage emotions.

The common mental ailments affecting seniors in Singapore include depression, anxiety disorders and dementia. A study done by the Institute of Mental Health in 2013 found that one in 10 adults aged 60 and above had dementia, while one in 27 had depression.

To maintain good mental health, seniors can lead a healthy lifestyle, stay socially active and take on meaningful activities. If you have a senior in your home, the best thing you can do is to encourage them to stay positive and make mental health a priority. 

Here are some tips on how to do so:

1. Exercise the mind

  • Just as the body needs physical exercise and stimulation to stay healthy, the brain needs stimulation to stay sharp and avoid cognitive decline as we age. Seniors should spend at least 30 minutes each day on mentally challenging activities to keep their minds sharp:
  • Engaging in brain games such as Sudoku and puzzles can help sharpen specific thinking skills such as processing speed, planning skills, reaction time, decision making and short-term memory, according to a report by Harvard Health Publishing.
  • Learning a new language exercises regions of the brain often affected by ageing and can build confidence. It’s also a great opportunity for seniors to socialise with others who know the same language.
  • Playing an instrument stimulates the brain and improves memory in seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. An article in The Washington Post reported that seniors aged 60 to 85 without previous musical experience spoke more fluently and had faster processing speed after a few months of weekly piano lessons.

Life can get busy and many people often put off their dreams and hobbies for work or family in their younger years. The senior years after retirement are the ideal time to check off a “bucket list” of things to do — whether it’s travelling, gardening, sewing, or cooking.

The neuronal connections in the brain’s pathways are reinforced when stimulated, and acquiring new skills establishes new neuronal connections, boosting mental wellness. Seniors who engage in lifelong learning are often more confident and motivated, which will in turn improve their mental health.

READ ALSO: Does Dementia Run In Families?

2. Stay in touch

Age should not prevent seniors from forming new friendships. Keeping strong friendships into old age may stave off mental decline, and prevent loneliness and isolation which may lead to depression.

Social engagements make the brains work harder as seniors must plan their route, think about what they are saying and remember the names and personal information of the persons they are meeting. Seniors who are actively involved in their community had the slowest rate of memory loss, according to studies.

Related: St Luke's Hospital's Community Intervention Team who helps persons with dementia, suspected dementia or mental health conditions (depression, anxiety), aged 40 and above.

3. Volunteer for a good cause

For many seniors, volunteering for a worthwhile cause provides them with a sense of fulfilment and purpose. Numerous organisations offer opportunities for seniors to be engaged and, as a result, seniors feel needed and valued. According to a BMC Public Health study, those who volunteer report reduced levels of sadness and higher levels of life satisfaction.

Whether mentoring young students or lending help to a hospital or soup kitchen, volunteering helps seniors remain active and socially engaged as part of a vibrant community.

4. Keep on moving

In addition to being beneficial for the body, exercise is essential for maintaining mental and cognitive health. Physical activity improves blood flow to the brain which is vital for brain health. It also prevents diseases like diabetes, hypertension and depression that potentially contribute to cognitive decline.

Seniors should strive for 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity each day. This has been proven to be useful in treating depression and anxiety by increasing endorphin levels and other feel-good chemicals as well as decreasing stress hormones in the brain.

5. Eat brain food

Diet can have a positive or negative impact on seniors’ mental health in addition to its physical effects. Studies show that adopting a heart-healthy, balanced diet high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats promotes brain function and may even help to prevent depression and lower the risk of dementia.

6. Get enough quality sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining excellent mental health. The American Psychology Association claims that getting more sleep can increase happiness, health, lifespan, and safety. The brain needs enough sleep each night to repair itself, store memories and get rid of the harmful cells linked to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Seniors should get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. However, they may also face changes in their sleep habits and difficulty falling into deep sleep which can result in sleep deprivation and a negative impact on mood and cognitive ability. To achieve better quality sleep, seniors can adopt healthy sleeping habits such as going to bed at a consistent time and abstaining from coffee, cigarettes and alcohol at least four hours before bedtime.

Seniors can age healthily and happily by maintaining good physical and mental health.

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