There are no two ways about it: caring for an aging loved one raises levels of mental health risk. Whether it’s because of elevated chronic stress, witnessing a loved one deteriorate, or isolation and boredom (yes, you’re allowed to say that it can be boring at times), caregivers need ways to mitigate the risk and maintain their mental health.
The same goes for the senior being cared for. The major (and often harsh) life changes that accompany the aging process can put seniors at increased risk for depression. If a senior has limited mobility and access to social interaction, the loneliness that ensues can raise that risk.
Take heart. With the right effort, direction and information, seniors and caregivers can both reduce stress, relieve boredom, increase resilience and recharge their mental health. Try these 7 ideas to keep yourself and your loved one both healthy and in good spirits.
Learn a new skill
If there’s a skill you’ve always wanted to have, now is the time to explore it. The process of learning is engaging, exciting and good for your mental muscles.
In addition, if it’s a creative skill, the act of creating, itself, is emotionally satisfying. Surely, at some point, you’ve expressed yourself creatively, whether it was through song, storytelling, sculpture or design. Remember the fulfillment felt when a project is completed, and recapture that feeling.
Grow a garden
There is a powerful emotional experience involved in the nurturing of life, even plant life. A garden can be grown anywhere, even in a small home. Purchase flowers from a nursery, or better yet, start plants from items in your kitchen, like avocados, potatoes or sweet potatoes. An herb garden, even on a windowsill, even for someone with limited mobility, can provide fulfillment.
Join a group
Find groups – in real life or online – that revolve around an interest. A book club, a quilting circle, a Dungeons and Dragons role-playing group… finding people who share your interests will leave you feeling energized and much less isolated.
Write a memoir
“What? Who am I to write a memoir?”
You’re not a famous artist, entertainer or politician. Who cares? You’re a person who has lived and grown. You undoubtedly have life lessons to share.
Even if your memoir never makes it out of your desk drawer, the realization of the richness of your life experience is personally valuable.
Keep in touch
When you’re a caregiver, it’s easy to be too busy for social outlets. You’re overworked. You’re overwhelmed. You’re overtired. Who has time or energy for socializing? In addition, it’s possible that you are zapped financially without a spare $50 to go for high-class drinks with friends.
Here’s what’s local and free: a little time. Just a little. Give yourself a certain window each day – or even every few days – for keeping up with friends and family whom it does you good to talk to. Certainly you’ve got somebody with whom you garner joy from chatting up, even if it’s once or twice a week.
Encourage your loved one to keep up with their social connections as well. It is a challenge as social circles dwindle due to age, but one with significant emotional benefits when surmounted.
“Families think nothing about having a family movie night, but having a family reading night seems sadly to be a tradition of the past.” So says Amy, the author of this blog post, where she talks about what it adds to the relationship of the members of the family when they read aloud together. (Albeit she’s talking about parents reading to children or spouses reading to each other, but the relationship impact would certainly apply to a senior and her caregiver.)
Reading familiar passages from when seniors were younger can have an especially beneficial effect for those with Alzheimers.
Yes, another activity-for-children-that-all-adults-benefit-from-too. Play relieves stress, boosts brain function and creativity, and improves your relationships with the people you play with.
Pick your favorite: from chess to poker, from Monopoly to chinese checkers. Discover a classic that you never learned. (Ever try the ancient Chinese game of Go?) Or try a new board game just out this year.
Keep boredom at bay
Pick an activity – any activity. Staying stimulated and engaged in life goes a tremendous way toward protecting the mental and emotional health of you and your loved one.