As baby-boomers age, we are redefining what healthy means. Instead of referring to the absence of problems, healthy is becoming synonymous with living a healthy lifestyle. If you like to do yoga, play games with your grandchildren, cook fresh food and meetup with your friends as often as possible, then you probably fit the new definition of healthy.
Most of us are aware of how obesity can affect our health, especially in the long term, but, we tend to focus solely on weight as an indicator of health. Obesity is a simple outcome that stems from a complex interaction of factors such as genetics, lifestyle and culture. The primary focus for health professionals dealing with obesity is on diet since addressing it is relatively straightforward. But, studies are finding that inactivity and loneliness are risk factors which have as much of an effect on health outcomes as obesity, if not more. The challenge seniors face is in recognizing the need for help and finding a solution that works for them. As caregivers, we can help.
Decreased Activity – Sitting
A comfortable bed or couch with a TV is an easier alternative for short term satisfaction, but it takes away from our long term health:
“New research published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health reports that prolonged sitting puts people over 60 at a risk for disabilities. Elderly adults in this age group spend on average two-thirds of their days sedentary, which equates to about nine hours a day. The link between age and disability held even when researchers controlled for obesity, socioeconomic status, physical activity, and other health factors.”
You can’t sit around too long when you want to be around people who are active. Socializing and participating in activities can be contagious. Caregivers can be that extra spark someone needs to get out of the house. At Extended Family Home Care, we find the things that someone likes to do, and we help encourage the activity.
Loss of Loved One – Loneliness
According to a recent study:
“Loneliness can be twice as unhealthy as obesity, according to researchers who found that feelings of isolation can have a devastating impact on older people.”
Aging doesn’t correlate with loneliness. Most seniors are great at maintaining healthy relationships. Many have close family, friends and pets but what is unique about aging is the likelihood of loss. When we experience the loss of a loved one, at any stage in life, the toll can be devastating. Seniors face especially tough challenges on the road to recovery.
Late-life depression and isolation affects about 6 million Americans age 65 and older, but only one in every ten receive help. The need for help can go unnoticed. Seniors often display symptoms of depression differently. Most don’t know how to identify what they are experiencing and even if they do, they might not be able to verbalize it. Depression can also be confused with the effects of illness or medicine. In those low times, it helps to have someone there who can listen and help you through.
Many seniors need help. The single most important thing seniors can do to maintain their health is to stay social.
Most of us were born wailing for the attention of our mother, and even despite shyness, introversion doesn’t apply to close friends. We are social creatures and old age shouldn’t cause a decrease in social activity. Most of the time, it doesn’t. Feelings of loneliness are actually more characteristic of adolescence and young adults. Seniors know how to connect. Many have close family, friends and pets but when we experience loss, the toll can be devastating. The experiences of loss are more common as we get older.
The impact and complexities of recuperating from a serious loss can’t be understated. Everyone experiences it in their own unique way, but the steps to getting back to a healthy life are relatively straightforward: we need to strengthen existing relationships and actively pursue new ones.
Loss of important relationships can lead to feelings of emptiness and depression. “Persons involved with a positive relationship tend to be less affected by everyday problems and to have a greater sense of control and independence. Those without relationships often become isolated, ignored, and depressed. Those caught in poor relationships tend to develop and maintain negative perceptions of self, find life less satisfying and often lack the motivation to change.”
Men are particularly susceptible to loneliness after loss:
Women tend to have formed more friendships–and closer friendships–throughout life. For many men their wives are their only confidant, a circumstance that may make widowhood devastating for them. In contrast, women tend to satisfy their needs for intimacy throughout their lives by establishing close friendships with other women and therefore are less dependent emotionally on the marital relationship.
Ways to be Social in the Denver Area
Many seniors aren’t technologically savvy, but with the ease of tablets, many are starting to embrace the benefits the internet has to offer. For connecting, the internet is a good place to start. For Denver events for seniors, you can check out:
- Meetup.com has dozens of groups that seniors have started and use to literally meetup.
- Seniorresouceguide.com has a user friendly calendar showing events for seniors.
- Denverpost.com keeps a running list of workshops, classes and meetings for seniors.
Nationally, there are groups too:
- ElderTreks, Road Scholar and the Evergreen Club help facilitate travel, safaris and outdoors adventures.
- SeniorMatch for dating and finding new <3
- and job boards and advice at WorkForce50 and RetiredBrains
A simple Google search for an activity a senior likes and adding “seniors” to the search will yield millions of results. Even without the internet, there are local senior centers, not for profits who need volunteers, museums, neighbors, dance clubs, game nights, arts and crafts, churches, temples and synagogues.
The possibilities for making new friends and connections is almost limitless, but it’s seeking these connection AND getting out of the house to these events that poses challenges. Barriers like depression, health concerns and lack of transportation can make it especially difficult for seniors to get out of the house. They might need help.
Maintaining a spouse or loved one’s mental health isn’t always simple. When the loved one is elderly or aging, people sometimes mistake depression as other, less serious things.
You might hear “O he’s just grouchy,” but that might be a sign of something more. Grouchiness is a temporary mood, but depression goes far beyond mood. Depression impacts energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health.
Late-life depression affects about 6 million Americans age 65 and older, but only 10% receive treatment for depression. The likely reason is that the elderly often display symptoms of depression differently. Most don’t know how to identify what they are experiencing and even if they do, they might not be able to vocalize it. Depression can also be confused with the effects of illness or medicine.
Causes of depression in older adults and the elderly
As people grow older, they face significant life changes that increase their risk for depression. According to helpguide, causes and risk factors that contribute to depression in older adults and the elderly include:
- Health problems like illness and disability, pain and cognitive decline can have a serious impact.
- Loneliness and isolation like living alone, a shrinking social circle due to deaths or relocation and decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges can cause depression.
- Fears of death, financial problems and more health issues create a downward spiral.
- Bereavement the death of friends, family members and pets might leave people depressed for extended periods of time.
Luckily, there are many steps people can take to overcome the symptoms of depression. Seeking professional help is always a good idea, but it can be a difficult topic to approach. Those who might be at risk of depression due to isolation and loss of independence have a chance to improve their lives with in-home care services provided by Extended Family Home Care
How Extended Family helps maintain mental health in the elderly:
- Companionship – someone to listen to their stories and increased social experiences in places they love. Anything from trips to the grocery store to picnics in the park.
- Increased mobility – driving to different locations, like friends houses, will strengthen personal bonds and social networks.
- More regular routines – regular eating schedules are upheld, food can be prepared or assisted in preparing. Overall hygiene and sense of well being improves with someone to help guide daily activity.
Researching and Finding Help for Seniors
Though you might feel like the responsibility rests on your shoulders, there are community resources that can help you find the solutions you need, like our Resources Page. Also, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DCOG) Aging Services section has an abundance of information that can help you learn more about aging and understand what is going on in your area. If you would like to speak with someone for help, the DCOG provides the Network of Care. For telephone assistance you can call (303) 480-6700 or you can email them firstname.lastname@example.org. For further assistance coordinating care, you can get in touch with a care manager in your area.
Questions You Don’t Need to Answer Alone
- How do I begin talking with my parent about their care needs?
- What is the best care option available for my parent?
- What types of help does my parent need?
- What types of senior care are available? How do they differ?
- How will the care be funded?
The NIH has a list of Senior Health FAQ’s can help shed light on the most common questions that caregivers like you might ask.
Getting Everyone Involved
Caring for an aging loved one often falls in the hands of an individual family member, but the good news is that they don’t have to do it alone. There is an abundance of community assistance for Denver senior care. If you would like to learn more about the senior care options in your area, such as in-home care, we have a guide to help you explore home care options. We can help.