Caring for mental health in your senior years
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 11, 2023
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As we enter our senior years, it’s important to prioritize our mental health. Our outlook on life and how we cope with its ups and downs can significantly impact our overall well-being. While experiencing mental health challenges is common, research suggests that older adults may be more susceptible to the effects of poor mental health.
Understanding Mental Health
Mental health encompasses how we think and feel, forming an integral part of our overall health. In the UK, approximately one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year. Life events during our later years, such as the loss of a loved one, retirement, loneliness, financial difficulties, or ongoing health issues, can trigger anxiety or depression.
Key Factors Affecting Mental Well-being
Research indicates that there are five key issues that can impact the mental well-being of older adults: discrimination, participation in meaningful activities, relationships, physical health, and poverty. While addressing society-wide problems may seem daunting, there are several things individuals can do to protect their mental well-being.
Be Prepared for Changes
Getting older and retiring both involve significant lifestyle changes for most people. Retirement is no longer mandatory, and the decision of when to retire is up to the individual. If you wish to continue working or explore flexible working options, discuss it with your employer. As laws regarding retirement continue to evolve, stay updated with the latest information from the ‘Employment’ section of Gov.uk.
Finding Purpose and Meaning
For those whose work or career was a significant part of their lives, it is essential to consider the impact of retirement on social connections, self-worth, and financial security. Finding new interests and activities can help fill the void. Volunteering, career changes, or returning to education are becoming popular among people over 50. Local organizations often value the skills and experience that older individuals bring, making volunteering a worthwhile endeavor.
Talk About Your Concerns
Dealing with problems and worries becomes easier when we share our concerns with others. Talking about our thoughts and emotions can help rationalize our feelings and make sense of difficult situations. It’s essential to choose the right person to talk to, depending on the nature of the concern. This could be a friend or family member, someone with specialist knowledge, an impartial person, or a confidential counselor.
Asking for Help
When we need help or advice, it’s crucial to know where to turn. Friends and family can offer support, but they may not always have the specialized knowledge required. Age UK and Citizens Advice are valuable resources for a wide range of topics. Emotional support is available through organizations like Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Support. If you’re concerned about your memory or dementia, consult your GP or visit Dementia UK for more information.
Planning Ahead for Peace of Mind
Allowing worries to consume us can negatively impact our mental well-being. Creating a plan to address concerns can help regain a sense of control. Planning should encompass a wide range of topics, including retirement, health, finances, access to local resources, and end-of-life matters. Regularly reviewing and adapting the plan ensures it remains relevant and effective.
Taking Care of Others
As we age, we often find ourselves caring for grandchildren, elderly parents, partners, friends, or neighbors. This role not only strengthens relationships but also provides a sense of purpose and self-worth. It’s crucial to seek support and advice when needed. Various organizations, such as Carers UK and Independent Age, offer help and guidance for carers.
Staying connected with friends and loved ones is essential for our mental well-being. Friendships require time and effort, but they provide practical help, emotional support, and an opportunity to share experiences. Embracing technology can help bridge gaps with friends and family who live far away. Engaging with people from different generations can provide a fresh perspective and keep us mentally stimulated.
Stay Active and Get Adequate Sleep
Regular physical activity, tailored to individual abilities and preferences, offers numerous mental health benefits, such as improved self-esteem, better sleep, and increased social interaction. Quality sleep is crucial for mental well-being, and maintaining healthy sleep habits is essential. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzles, games, reading, or learning new skills, also supports cognitive health.
Eating and Drinking for Mental Well-being
A balanced and nutritious diet plays a vital role in our mental health. Consuming at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily is recommended. Staying hydrated is equally important, while limiting alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks can have a positive impact on overall well-being.
Relaxation and Breaks
Taking regular breaks from routine and engaging in activities we enjoy can rejuvenate our mental energy. Whether it’s a few hours away, an evening at the theater, or a day trip, breaks provide an opportunity to unwind and recharge. The cost of breaks can be managed through various discounts and offers available to older adults.
Seek Support and Information
Numerous organizations offer support and information related to mental health, caring, legal and financial matters, bereavement, and more. Age UK, Carers UK, Samaritans, Citizens Advice, and Gov.uk are valuable resources to explore. Additionally, counseling services, food and nutrition resources, and volunteering opportunities can be found through organizations like The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Nutrition Foundation, and Do-it.org.uk.
By prioritizing your mental health as you age and seeking the support you need, you can ensure a fulfilling and satisfying life. Remember to stay active, maintain social connections, seek help when necessary, and engage in activities that bring you joy and purpose.