February is Psychology Month. The Canadian Psychological Association states “Psychology Month is celebrated every February to highlight the contributions of Canadian psychologists and to show Canadians how psychology works to help — people live healthy and happy lives, their communities flourish, their employers create better workplaces, and their governments develop effective policies.”
The past 2 years have been stressful for us all but seniors especially have been affected. When surveyed 1 out of 5 Canadian seniors stated they experienced emotional distress in the past 2 years and found it difficult to cope on their own.
14% of Canadian seniors said that they specifically had problems with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
We thought we would talk about mental health and Canadian seniors this month and offer a few tips that might help.
1. Games & Activities
Just as the body needs physical activity and stimulation to stay healthy, the brain needs stimulation to stay sharp. Any activity that keeps the mind engaged and working towards solving problems helps with brain health. Here are some ideas:
- Read more and often
- Studies have proven that reading can enhance memory function, reduce stress and promote better sleep.
- Keep a journal
- Writing helps to manage and alleviate the effects of stress and anxiety.
- Learn a new language
- Leaning a language exercises regions of the brain often affected by aging. It can build confidence and even increase socialization with others who know or are also learning the language.
- Play a musical instrument
- Music stimulates the brain and improves memory in seniors. According to a 2016 article in The Washington Post, playing or learning to play, an instrument is not only fun but can improve verbal fluency and processing speed within a matter of months.
- Play puzzles & games
- In addition to being fun, various puzzles and games are proven to delay memory decline and help brighten a senior's mood.
2. Physical Activity
We’ve talked before about how physical activity can help reduce the risk of falls. But, staying active and getting enough exercise is not only important for your physical health it’s just as important for your mental health. In fact, exercise can help manage stress, anxiety, and depression, which can be just as detrimental to seniors’ health as physical ailments and injuries. So, bundle up and go out for a winter walk.
3. Stay Connected with Friends & Family
Time and distance can make it difficult for people to maintain close relationships with friends and family. COVID restrictions have not helped with this either.
But keeping in touch with the important people in our lives can help to ward off loneliness and those awful feelings of isolation that ultimately lead to depression.
Learning how to connect with people we care about on social media, through FaceTime, or Zoom are just some ways to stay in touch. If you need help getting started reach out to a loved one to get you all set up. Don’t forget the power of simplicity, writing letters or setting up a regular schedule for a good old-fashioned phone call is still a great way to keep in touch.
4. New Hobbies
It’s extremely important for seniors to stay active. Everyone has a “bucket list” of dreams and activities, but often those ideas are set aside because life just gets too busy. Retirement is the perfect time for you to dust off the list of what you’ve always wanted to do. Now is the time to pursue your lifelong goals, be it gardening, crafting, painting, or French cooking!
Did you know that hobbies are scientifically good for you?
It’s true, hobbies help increase the neuroplasticity of the brain in which nerve cells connect or reconnect, changing the brain’s structure and function when stimulated through the repetition of seeing them.
As neuronal connections in these pathways are strengthened, and new connections are established, individuals feel comforted and gain an increased sense of belonging and ultimately, improving senior mental health. Cool eh?
Many seniors find fulfillment and a sense of purpose in volunteering for a worthy cause. There is no shortage of organizations and causes in need of support. Many opportunities are for older adults who would like to get involved, and in turn, feel valued and needed.
Volunteering can offer a number of additional benefits that enhance seniors’ physical, emotional and mental health.
Maybe you’d like to share your love of reading or other skills and expertise with children and young students or help out in a local hospital, food bank, or soup kitchen. Volunteering can help seniors make friends, remain active, and become part of a vibrant and diverse community.
Animals can help keep seniors active and busy and offer companionship in the process, with their unconditional love. Many studies have shown that relationships with pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to seniors.
There are many benefits of owning a pet: https://www.canes.on.ca/blog/benefits-pet-ownership-seniors
There are a few things to keep in mind when looking for the right pet for you or a loved one: https://www.canes.on.ca/blog/choosing-pets-seniors
Unable to own a pet? Volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way to connect with animals and you’ll be helping an organization in need.
7. Reach out for Help
We offer a service for older adults and seniors with health challenges like depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. A partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association/Peel Branch, CANES Community Care, and Reconnect Mental Health Services is here to provide mental health support services for older adults.