From diets to exercise programs, more people spend energy addressing their physical health than mental. It’s much more visibly obvious, after all!
As we grow older and become caregivers for our parents, we worry about their bodies breaking down and keeping them out of pain, if they’re eating well… or even at all. All manners of medicines, treatments, and regimens become necessary to keep functioning.
So what about their minds?
Today’s guest piece is written by Jason Lewis of Strongwell.org, a specialist in senior fitness.

Seniors are well aware of their physical health. After all, we spend our whole lives going to the doctor, getting checkups, and doing what we have to do to prevent disease and illness. What many seniors do not do, however, is get the care they need for their mental health. 

According to the World Health Organization, 15 percent of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder. Many of these people will spend the rest of their lives without properly treating their illness. There is still a considerable amount of stigma surrounding mental health, particularly with older people. Furthermore, many seniors may not even realize that they are suffering from a mental disorder like depression. They may assume that it is just another bout of sadness or how people normally feel at their age. 

Signs of mental illness in seniors include: 

  • Apparent sadness
  • Confusion or problems with concentration or decision-making
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Issues maintaining appearance, dress, home, and yard
  • Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or inappropriate guilt
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in activities they normally enjoy

The Mind/Body Connection 

When we don’t care for our mental health, it can have adverse effects on the body and physical health. The mind and body are intrinsically connected; when one is suffering, you may notice issues with the other. Sometimes, seniors develop mental illness as a result of their physical issues — and the connection can surprise you. For example, it is becoming more and more clear that the microbiome in your gut is actually connected to your emotions and mood. So, a diet rich in probiotics from fermented foods or supplements can actually improve your mental health. Other times, they may start to feel physically ill as a result of an untreated emotional and mental problem. Heart disease, psoriasis, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, and diabetes are all illnesses that can result from or be exacerbated by mental sickness. 

Caring for Your Mental Health 

When you take the time to care for your mental health, you are investing in your overall health and happiness. Yet, not everyone knows the best way to care for their mental health. In short, the best way is your way. Your mind and emotions are your own, so you know best how to care for them. However, if you need suggestions, the best person to ask is your doctor. Before you make the first appointment, check to be sure what is covered under your healthcare plan. Medicare benefits typically cover outpatient mental healthcare, but you can also invest in a supplemental Medicare Advantage plan that covers prescriptions and other mental health services. Plan availability and benefits vary, so be sure to review your options.

Take a Break 

If you are feeling overwhelmed, there’s nothing wrong with stepping away and giving yourself a break. Those raised by parents from the Greatest Generation were taught that hard work is the end-all to being a good person, but life needs balance. Taking a mental health day can actually increase productivity, improve your relationships, and refresh yourself mentally and physically so you perform better in the future. 

Meditate

Mindfulness is a term used to describe a certain mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. It’s the opposite of mindlessness — you know, that state you’re in when you zone out in front of the television. Practicing mindfulness in your day-to-day life improves your overall outlook while reducing stress and anxiety. Meditation is a great way to increase mindfulness in your life. By taking 10 minutes to sit uninterrupted and focus inward, you train your brain to be present throughout the rest of your day. Regular meditation also helps seniors retain mental clarity, enhance digestion, manage their emotions, develop intelligence, improve memory, and feel more calm and relaxed. 

Float Therapy 

Float therapy is a technique that has grown in popularity over the last few decades. With the body floating in salt water in a sensory deprivation tank, muscles and tendons relax. In turn, the brain’s amygdala functions regulate which eases feelings of depression and anxiety. In fact, some studies show that spending an hour in a float tank has the same effect as some anti-anxiety medications. By removing most sensations, the float tank allows people who otherwise struggle with mindfulness to reach a meditative state.

Talking to a friend or loved one about your struggles can reduce feelings of hopelessness that often accompany mental illness. You might also find that the people in your life have their own mental health struggles, so you know that you are not alone. Finally, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you are struggling mentally and emotionally. Doctors are trained and ready to help with these things so you can enjoy your days, not dread them.