As we age, it's important to monitor both physical and mental health. Isolation, decreased mobility and other issues that may accompany old age can all have an effect on mental health. There are, however, many ways to combat mental health issues. With proper care and awareness, seniors can stay healthy longer. Here are a few tips on how to stay mentally healthy during the golden years.
1. Stay social
Socializing and staying connected with the outer world helps those of all ages fight off depression. Considering the risks of isolation for seniors, it's particularly important to stay engaged with the world around you. Try setting a schedule to call a friend or family members regularly, taking part in events at assisted living centers, getting together with friends, volunteering in the community, or joining a book club or other social group.
Today, there are more ways than ever to stay connected. Search online – or ask for help from family or friends to look online – for group gatherings and community activities that appeal to you. Group activities can include associations for military veterans, outings to museums, trips to local botanical gardens or outings to the movies.
You can also use email and Facebook to stay connected with friends and family and to look for volunteer opportunities.
However, keep in mind studies have shown that nothing beats face-to-face contact with others in staving off and alleviating depression. These gatherings can help shake off the mental cobwebs and refresh your mood.
The benefits of exercise are numerous – fitness keeps your heart healthy and your muscles limber. If you're looking for another reason to take a walk around the block, consider the mental health benefits.
Numerous studies have shown the link between exercise and mental fitness. Getting your heart rate up can help relieve mild depression, anxiety and stress. If you're homebound or in a wheelchair, there are still gentle exercise options available to keep up your strength. In addition to the physical benefits of exercise on the brain, a set exercise schedule can fit in as a part of your daily routine, which helps keep you active and mentally organized.
There's also something to be said for the sense of accomplishment you can gain by prioritizing your health and finishing a fitness routine.
Consult your doctor before embarking on a fitness plan.
3. Play games
Break out the crossword puzzle and have a little brain-challenging fun. The brain needs exercise, too, and puzzles, logic, math and word games all can help the brain to stay healthy as you age.
Games give seniors something to focus on and stretch the memory. Take crossword puzzles, for instance. These popular puzzles may seem run-of-the-mill, but in fact test your memory (who played Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, again?), combining word games with counting and spatial reasoning.
Sudoku is a great option if you're looking to brush up on number games, and jigsaw puzzles or a game of gin rummy can be done with or without company. Extra points for a group game, which brings together elevated brain activity with socialization.
4. Watch out for early signs
You keep track of your blood pressure and dutifully take your medication every day. Apply these same tactics to tracking your – or your family member's – mental health. Even if you exercise daily, socialize and play games, genetics and life situations may cause mental health issues, and that's OK.
If you notice yourself experiencing sadness lasting more than a few days at a time, lethargy, a desire to isolate, anxiety or deteriorating memory or language skills, take these warning signs seriously and follow the next tip.
5. Talk to your doctor
Everyone, young and old, is susceptible to mental health issues. There's nothing to be ashamed of – treat it as seriously as you would any other chronic illness that can interrupt your life. Start by talking to your doctor.
In general, your physician should be on the alert for mental health issues, but it's also up to you to talk about any concerns you may have. Talk to your doctor about any shifts in mood, anxiety, trouble sleeping or any other behavior you've noticed in yourself or a loved one. These illnesses are treatable – your doctor may prescribe you medication, suggest therapy or another option.
Often, a combination of medication and therapy – which provides another social experience for you to speak with a professional or group about life's challenges and your experiences – can work wonders for depression and anxiety. If you've never gone to therapy before, think of it as another new experience you can take on, and one that can change your life for the better.
These are your golden years – help make them as enjoyable as possible.