Mental health consists of emotional, psychological and social well-being. It impacts the way we think, feel, act and relate to others. Positive mental health is essential to overall health and quality of life.
The American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry estimates that 20% of people aged 55 years and older experience some type of mental health concern. The most common mental health problems in older adults include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment and mood disorders, such as depression.
There are many ways to help improve mental health in older adults.
Incorporate regular movement and exercise. Making time for exercise or some type of physical movement every day can add up. For example, just 30 minutes of daily walking can help boost one’s mood and improve overall health. Other activities include yoga, meditation, swimming and gardening. Remember, you can stay active at any age, and doing something you enjoy will help you stick with it!
Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Eating healthy, regular meals and drinking plenty of water can increase energy and focus. Good nutrition can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes, and it may also help keep your brain healthy. A nutritious diet typically consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats, fish and poultry; and low-fat dairy. Limiting alcohol and foods that contain high amounts of sugar and salt may also help.
Follow a consistent sleep schedule. Getting enough sleep is important for mental health in older adults, as well as a good immune system. Poor sleep habits can increase the risk of chronic disease. Most healthy adults aged 65 or older need seven or more hours of sleep every night. The National Council on Aging recommends these practices to help improve sleep.
Stay socially connected. The physical and emotional health of older adults is impacted by social connections. Being disengaged can lead to loneliness and even isolation in seniors. This not only affects mental health, but it can have physical consequences as well.
Studies show that people who engage in meaningful, productive activities can improve their mental well-being and cognitive function. Some ways seniors can stay socially connected include:
- Setting aside time each day to stay in touch with family, friends and neighbors, whether in person, over the phone or via video chat
- Taking up a new (or renewing an old) hobby
- Joining a faith-based organization
- Helping others through volunteering or participating in a cause in the community
Practice an attitude of gratitude. Practicing gratitude can make us more emotionally balanced, happier and more positive, which can impact our mental health. Expressing appreciation for others, saying “thank you” and taking actions to show gratitude to the people you care about makes you feel good overall. Send a thank-you note. Remind yourself of the things you are grateful for. Write them down and repeat them daily.
Laugh out loud. A good laugh is healthy for you! It can help you feel more relaxed and reduce anxiety. The simple act of smiling can help to lower your heart rate. Find something to laugh or smile about every day. Focus on the things that make you happy. Have a good laugh with a friend, watch a funny movie, and surround yourself with positive people.
To improve mental health in older adults, family caregivers can encourage their loved ones to incorporate these activities into their daily routines. A healthy body and mind can keep mental well-being intact and help older adults age gracefully.
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National Institute on Aging
National Council on Aging
Mental Health America