Guide to Emotional & Social Support Services for Seniors
The truth of the matter is: Many seniors struggle with undiagnosed mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
There is a direct connection between mental health issues, and the ability to perform physical, everyday tasks. When someone is struggling with their mental and behavioral health, it’s likely their daily routine is suffering, too.
In this article, we will address the importance of emotional support and mental health for seniors, how to alleviate emotional suffering, and services that can help seniors struggling with their mental health achieve a higher quality of life.
Connection Between Aging and Mental Health
According to clinical studies, there is a direct correlation between aging and the decline of one’s mental health. Evidence shows that stem cells located in specific areas of the brain play a major role in cognitive functions, like memory, learning and emotional health. These stem cells proliferate over the course of time, leading to a reduced ability to learn and perform memory functions – all of which can negatively affect one’s mental and emotional health.
Self Concept and Emotional Well-Being
Unfortunately, the majority of senior citizens struggle with depression. A combination of factors, including less social interaction, living far away from friends or family, and the inability to perform some of their most cherished physical activities all make getting older more difficult. With depression comes a lack of self-concept and purpose for the elderly.
Self-concept is defined as the way an individual thinks, evaluates and perceives themselves. As age settles in, many individuals lose grip of their self-concept and self-perception. Studies show that healthy and active older adults have a higher self-concept than those who are unhealthy and lonely. With that in mind, caregivers with elderly patients should always stay positive and offer encouragement to their senior clients, giving them an increased desire to continue living a meaningful life. By doing so, seniors can grow to be more resilient to diseases and mental illness.
Caregivers have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders when it comes to promoting a positive self-perception with senior patients. Seniors should be involved in various social activities, as this will help them regain their sense of hope and excitement in life. Caregivers can help set up these activities by developing connections within the elderly community, signing up for various support groups and activities organized by trusted organizations. Another way for seniors to meet and connect with others who share the same interests as them, is to attend their local church services, social celebrations and neighborhood gatherings – all of which help foster positive aging.
When all is said and done, healthy aging requires meaningful relationships. Whether that support comes from caregiver companionship or family interactions, a seniors quality of life depends significantly on the types of relationships they’re experiencing.
Impact of Stress on Emotional Health
When emergencies occur, stress and anxiety are triggered naturally as our body switches its fight or flight mode. Whether external (someone stealing your purse and running) or internal (financial problems or a fight within the family), the body will release stress hormones into the bloodstream, increasing heart rate, breathing levels, and other processes which prepare you to respond quickly. This natural reaction to emergency situations is known as a “stress response”.
Studies show that both stress and anxiety found in older adults is directly associated with physical ailments, such as a difficulty in performing activities of daily living. Other physical problems that occur in seniors who suffer from stress and anxiety include coronary artery disease and depression, experiencing a decreased sense of well-being. Long-term activation of the bodies stress response can diminish the immune system’s ability to fight off disease, leading to an increase in both physical and mental health issues.
Additionally, too much stress has been linked to aggravating, or even causing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple other medical conditions like diabetes and arthritis. Chronic pain and cognitive changes may also occur in aging adults who are constantly stressed.
Signs of Stress in Seniors:
- Panic attacks and heightened anxiety levels
- Feeling worried
- Depression or sadness
- Hard time concentrating and having a difficult time making decisions
- Becoming irritable and moody
- Problems sleeping
- Physical symptoms such as chest pain, headaches and stomach issues
- Experiencing feelings of emptiness and/or helplessness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Over-drinking alcohol, misusing drugs, etc.
- Lack of eating, or over-eating
Importance of Emotional Support in Seniors
At least 20 percent of adults over the age of 60 years old develop some type of mental health issue due to lack of emotional support, according to the World Health Organization.
Among the many forms of mental health issues, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and substance abuse problems are the most common.
Below, we’ve listed the major sources of emotional and social stress for seniors:
- Experiencing the loss of a friend or family member due to death or relocation
- Feelings of isolation due to the fact that all their children have grown up and are living on their own now
- Feelings of inadequacy because of the absence of work and routine activities
- Feeling inadequate because of a loss of financial dependence as regular income is no longer coming in
- Frustration due to being diagnosed with several medical ailments and the increasing need for medications
- Having a difficult time accepting the physical changes associated with aging, such as hearing loss and loss of energy/stamina
What is Social Support?
The phrase “social support” refers to the psychological resources provided to us by our social network to help us cope with stress and depression. These sources of social support can come in a variety of forms. Sometimes, they involve having a person help us with daily tasks or a meal when we are sick, or offering us financial assistance in a time of need. On the other hand, this could involve receiving advice from a friend when we are in a difficult position. It can even come in the form of simple care, empathy, and genuine concern from a friend or colleague.
What is Social Integration?
When you hear someone say “social integration”, they are referring to the actual physical participation a person undergoes in any given social relationship. These relationships can range from being romantic, simple friendships, or co-worker relationships. Generally speaking, these types of integrations involve deeper emotions and a sense of belonging, such as being part of a family, a social activity, a partnership, or a religious community. According to experts, being integrated into such social relationships offer a protective benefit against maladaptive behaviors and damaging social consequences.
When seniors allow a caregiver into their daily lives, this opens the door for new opportunities in both areas of social support and social integration. As time goes on, the senior and their caregiver develop a trusting relationship in which they can confide in one another. Additionally, caregivers can introduce and encourage the senior to participate in activities and events that involve aspects of social integration.
Emotional Benefits of Social Interaction
According to experts, seniors that maintain regular interactions with friends or family generally seem healthier or show a slower decline in their overall health. On that same note, seniors who have medium to high levels of social activity show a lowered risk of ending up at the doctors office, says a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Increased Cognitive Functionality
Remaining socially active as a senior not only boosts your cognitive functions and memory, but also helps curb the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other similar neurological issues.
A well-known senior facility conducted a study on the benefits of social interaction among their residents. The results showed that older adults who participated in social activities, such as a simple game of chess, had significantly higher episodic memory levels and stronger short-term memory levels simply due to the fact that their minds were being engaged when they spent time in groups of people.
Increased Levels of Physical Activity
A part of being socially active, is getting out of your house more often. Rather than spending your day in sedentary or isolated in your room, social interaction encourages moving about with friends or family.
Senior participants who opted in for a study on the effects of social activity on physical health all indicated an increase in strength and endurance, as well as improved sleep cycles due to having regular meetups and engaging in active sports with friends.
Healthier Choices and Behaviors
When we participate in social groups, it has a direct influence on our behaviors. This often plays an influence on what we eat, if we engage in exercise, etc. Social support in seniors can help promote healthier life choices, and help with combating stress. Since stress has been directly linked to developing serious health complications, surrounding ourselves with caring and supportive people can help aging adults stay healthy and active.
Improve Motivation Levels
Believe it or not, social interaction can also help seniors get, and stay, more motivated. By setting and meeting goals, we are able to increase our self-image and how we feel about ourselves. A seniors quality of life improves as they reach their goals and remain motivated.
Ways to be Socially Active as a Senior
Proper time management and self-motivation is all you need to keep socially busy. If you don’t have a lot of spending money, it’s not a problem! Here are ways to maintain a socially active lifestyle:
- Create a schedule where weekly, or bi-weekly, a meet-up is set for you to visit a child or grandchild. Dine together, go out for a walk in the park, or whatever else you enjoy doing.
- Do you have a hobby? If so, take a class to enhance your skills and spend more time doing what you love. If not, take a few starter classes to figure out what you enjoy doing, such as a new craft or dancing lessons.
- Volunteer once a week at your local community center. This is a great way to meet new friends, and give back to the community. It also provides a surprisingly satisfying feeling that’s not only helpful for others, but good for your soul.
- Set a few days per week aside for morning walks. If you have friends or family nearby, you can invite them to join you. You could even opt in for an easy seniors yoga class or zumba activity.
- Consider taking classes aimed to help teach seniors how to use modern-day technology. By doing so, you’ll stay up-to-date with the trends and be able to stay in contact with your children and grandchildren.
- Play a game of golf, tennis, or bowling with some friends or family members.
- If you’re struggling with physical or mental issues, you can find great local senior support groups to interact with. By discussing your feelings with others who can relate may help you feel better understood and supported. This is also a great way to make more friends.
Senior Citizen Centers
There are an estimated 15,000 senior centers in the U.S. alone. These centers primarily focus on providing American seniors with a plethora of aging and care services. The most common services offered include health programs (which include zumba and yoga classes), arts and crafts, humanitarian activities, employment assistance, transportation services, community action assistance, volunteer opportunities, financial assistance, meal programs and much more. Many of these programs help the elderly improve their self-awareness.
Adult Day Care Centers
There are currently more than 4,600 adult day care centers in the United States today. Adult day care centers are programs which provide activities that promote social interaction among seniors. They also help assist with health and supportive services for the elderly. These centers can consist of group games such as cards, musical entertainment, singing groups, gentle exercise, book and film discussions, holiday celebrations and local outings. Adult day care centers offer seniors the opportunity to participate in enjoyable activities and develop long lasting relationships, too. Additionally, adult day care centers encourage senior independence and encourage participants to improve their self-awareness. Seniors found that the activities they participated in at adult day care centers were beneficial to their quality of life and overall satisfaction. They also reduce the risks of mental and physical problems that can occur as we age.
As we age, it is critically important to take advantage of any and every opportunity we get to interact with people and develop meaningful relationships. Community groups and senior centers offer a great meeting spot for seniors to discover friends they have things in common with. They also provide an opportunity to spend time around others, exercising their body both physically and mentally. As aging adults increase their social interactions, they also increase their emotional support circle and overall well-being.