Health

How To Promote Mental Wellness in Your Golden Years

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Not everything that shines is always gold, and this rings true when it comes to your “golden years” without proper mental health. Aging and mental health are important considerations for those facing or experiencing retirement. Contrary to what you might think, neither depression nor anxiety is part of getting older.

Such mental health issues aren’t widespread, but groups still continue to face these roadblocks. Particularly those around retirement age that require healthcare. According to the CDC, ~1%-5% of adults in their golden years suffer from depression when simply within their community, compared to 11.5% of hospitalized adults and 13.5% of those receiving healthcare at home.

Fortunately, mental health has been taken more seriously over recent years, and there are more accessible healthcare options and tips available to help those suffering. Even if you are handling mental health and aging well, it’s essential to implement positive routines in your life to maintain it. Like with many things, the first step is understanding how your mental health is affected during your golden years.

Understanding What Affects Mental Health in Seniors

Entering your golden years can often mean new experiences and lifestyle changes. While these can be exciting, they can also lead to anxiety, depression, and adverse mental health effects.

Dealing with aging and mental health is essential to living a better quality of life. When you suffer from mental health issues, it can also affect how you feel physically. Therefore, it’s important to understand what factors can negatively impact your mental health during your golden years.

The Center for Mental Health and Aging continues to be a leader in mental health for older adults. This includes late onset depression, which can be when adults in their golden years face major depressive states for the first time in their golden years. Here are the many risk factors the organization has pinpointed as potentially damaging:

Changes in Physical Health

Based on the CDC source listed above, this factor should be no surprise as “80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more.” When adults in their golden years face medical conditions such as developing a new chronic physical disorder, functional disability, or major physical issues, it can weigh heavy on their minds.

Often, such issues lead to not only physical challenges but new norms for those affected by their lifestyles. For some, it may mean a lack of independence or the limiting of a once-enjoyed activity.

Mental Health Episodes

It may feel a bit on the nose that negative mental health issues would cause depression, but the subject of mental health is vaster than just “feeling down.” This means that a range of issues, including previous bouts of depression, substance abuse (including alcohol and prescription drugs), and even your family history, can come into play.

Furthermore, there are signs when older adults simply aren’t acting themselves. For example, suffering from a cognitive impairment or experiencing the feeling of anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety and depression often go hand and hand, meaning adults in their golden years feeling anxious may too suffer from depressive states.

Side Effects From Medication

Medication can also affect mental health and not solely from abuse or addiction. The side effects found in some medications may negatively affect the mental health of their users while working to improve the physical health of a patient.

Lifestyle Changes/Lack of Support

Your golden years are sure to bring changes, but they can sometimes be difficult. This could mean looking for a new purpose after retiring, new financial issues, losing loved ones, becoming isolated as you age, a lacking social life, and more.

But by recognizing these signs and risk factors, there are plenty of great ways to help curtail symptoms and receive treatment. By doing so, you improve the days left in your second act through a better quality of life. Explore the seven best ways to improve your mental health below.

1. Seek Professional Help

The stigma around seeking professional help for mental health continues to crumble but persists. Yet, there are no two ways about it, just as we depend on doctors and physicians to keep our bodies functioning properly, mental health specialists help the other side of our healthcare.

Working with mental health professionals is one of the top suggestions of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Having a medical team to minimize and prevent negative health effects can improve both your mental and physical well-being through a variety of methods:

  • Get a mental health evaluation from a team of trusted professionals.
  • Be proactive in your healthcare and devise a plan that works for you.
  • Identify your sources of negative mental health effects.
  • Set personal goals and work towards them with guidance.
  • Stick to the plan, monitor its progress, or lack thereof, and provide feedback to professionals.
  • Tweak your treatment with the help of your practitioners and move forward with a better quality of life.

There are a lot of different scenarios that can occur because healthcare is different for everyone. Professional health experts can help you devise a plan that works for your specific needs. Whether it be visiting a psychologist, medication, lifestyle changes, etc., the right team will help you improve your mindset and get back on track.

One of the best things about being older age and mental health is that Medicare benefits cover mental healthcare. Even with the leftover costs that can occur when using Original Medicare benefits, Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans are also available for supplemental coverage to pay the leftover costs.

2. Combat Isolation

Everyone has their own degree of comfortable socialization, but as humans, we often do better both physically and mentally when maintaining a healthy social circle. For many reasons, this can be a difficult achievement to maintain for adults in their golden years. Being isolated is more than simply living alone. There are around 14 million older adults living alone in the United States, and the majority of them do not feel isolated.

The research that continues on the subjects of isolation and loneliness shows that those affected by this issue face various challenges, including depression, weakened immune systems, distrust of others, and more.

Combatting isolation through socialization has been proven by professionals to improve these issues not only in older adults but across various age groups. Several options are recommended by professionals to improve your social life, such as techniques suggested by the National Institute on Aging (NIA):

  • Find communities that share your interests. Sharing hobbies and activities can help you foster social circles that keep your mind, body, and spirit engaged.
  • These days there are more opportunities than ever before to stay in touch with loved ones. Whether it be friends or family, in person or online, keeping up with those that matter most can help you in many ways.
  • Loved ones don’t always have to be human, either. Adopting a pet is a great way to socialize and make a new best friend.
  • Exercising is an activity many find better together. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities, gyms, and events promoting such opportunities. Some top Medigap companies will even cover fitness plans or gym memberships.
  • Giving back is also a great way to meet people, interact, and form a community. Volunteering not only makes a difference in your mental health but in the mental health of those you reach.

3. Stay Safely Active

Keeping your body and mind in the best shape possible usually requires efforts to engage both by staying active. In other words, if you want your mental health to remain well, you will need to treat your physical body well. This means getting up and staying active!

But this can be a challenge of varying degrees for many. One unfortunate reality for many in their golden years is that physically, it can be difficult to exercise. Thankfully, there are still many exercises that can be performed and still help your mental and physical well-being.

While it’s always important to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen if you’re looking to get inspired and improve your mental health, here are some great ways to stay active:

  • Aerobics
  • Balance exercises
  • Enjoying a hobby (such as gardening)
  • Hip extensions
  • Pilates
  • Playing a sport (such as golf or pickleball)
  • Stretching
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Wall push-ups
  • Water aerobics
  • Weight lifting
  • Yoga

Again, working with your physicians can help you determine which exercises are appropriate for your healthcare and at what level of intensity. Finding the right routines will help you stick with them, increase your health, and do so safely.

4. Get Quality Sleep

Everyone knows to get their beauty rest, but if you want to make the best of your golden years, quality sleep will do wonders for you mentally. Sleep plays a big part in how we feel, think, and act during the day.

Our brains stay active to varying degrees while sleeping, depending on where we are in our sleep cycle. There is both NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, when brain activity is lesser and REM sleep, when our brains are more active.

Together, but especially REM sleep, they both work to help us rest and prepare for what comes next. A lack of sleep prevents our brains from processing memories and lowers the amount of activity in the brain. This can make it hard to regulate our moods and even increase the thought of suicide, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Depression and anxiety can be a problem without proper sleep, which is why it’s important to make them a priority. Beyond making sure you get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, there are many tools for those in their golden years to use and ensure they get the best night’s sleep possible:

  • Taking care of physical health issues can help you sleep better. There are several conditions, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), that hinders the quality of your sleep.
  • Exercising both your mind and body can help you ensure you’re getting enough sleep each night.
  • Speaking with your doctor can also help. There are times when medications or specific techniques through health plans can be beneficial.
  • Eating well and avoiding larger meals later at night can help you sleep better.
  • Finding ways to reduce stress, as mentioned below, can help clear your mind and help you fall asleep peacefully.

Getting control of your mental state and improving mental health overall is an ongoing effort. Create a solid sleeping routine, stick with it, and over time, you should experience more restful days and nights.

5. Eat a Well-balanced Diet

While everyone needs to eat well, not everyone realizes the importance our diets have on our mental state. According to Feeding America, food hunger affects 1 in 15 people in their golden years, leading to chronic health conditions. This includes depression and can have a domino effect in other areas.

Having access to the right kind of food is more difficult for some than others. It’s also safe to say that there are plenty of nuances and different dietary restrictions thanks to health conditions, allergies, and the other variables in each person’s nutritional needs.

Regardless, the common theme we all share is the need to cultivate and maintain a healthy diet to keep our bodies and minds on track to perform their best. Here are some tips for eating well as you age:

  • Affordability and access are huge factors. Fortunately, you can access healthy food through various programs and food banks in your area. Best of all, you can find which programs are nearest you with just a few clicks.
  • Striking a balance is key. You will want to stick to vegetables and leaner proteins while mixing in healthy fats. Small changes such as getting a salad instead of a burger can add up to a healthier you!
  • There are also a variety of meal prep services available that will deliver pre-portioned meals to your home.
  • Cutting out processed foods has been shown to help brain function and improve emotions.

Similar to working out, it’s important to speak with your doctor before starting a new diet. Working with a dietician is a great way to safely change your diet for the better. You may even be able to have your nutritionist covered by Medicare, but you’ll need them referred by your doctor and deemed medically necessary.

6. Reduce Stress

Stress can be found in many different activities, and to a certain degree, it can be healthy. But having too much stress is detrimental to mental wellness and can even lead to physical harm. There are plenty of factors that can cause stress during your golden years, including finances, dealing with health issues, losing loved ones, separation from your family, etc.

Dealing with stress is important, and it starts with identifying what’s causing an unhealthy level of stress in your life. Staying gold during your golden years doesn’t mean there aren’t major life events that can bring extra stress points, including:

  • Dealing with the changes that come with retirement and financial challenges involved with investing.
  • Money problems can arise due to unexpected expenses after retirement, such as receiving healthcare.
  • Physical issues can arise as you age, including dealing with chronic diseases.
  • Coping with loved ones passing.
  • Downsizing your home and dealing with the process of moving.

Again, pinpointing where your stress factors come from will help you overcome them. Working with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, can help you work through these issues, improve your mental health, and provide realistic solutions for maintaining healthy stress levels.

For example, if paying for medical expenses is an issue, having Medicare Supplement coverage can help you reduce stress by helping cover some if not all of your remaining healthcare costs after using Original Medicare benefits. Comparing companies such as Aetna can help you determine which coverage options work best for your needs.

7. Monitor Medication Side Effects

The adverse effects of medication are too significant to list. Of course, modern medicine continues to improve and already works wonders, but there are still possible unwanted effects that can occur. Some of those tend to be increasing the levels of anxiety or feeling depressed among people prescribed these drugs.

A cruel irony is that many of the same medications that help people experiencing negative mental health effects can also cause others to have side effects working in the opposite direction. Several psychiatric drugs present side effects beyond mental health effects, as pointed out by Better Health Channel, that can help you indicate whether or not switching medication may be right for you:

  • Cramping
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Gaining weight
  • Headaches
  • Lacking a sex drive
  • Problems with sleeping

While disheartening, there are still ways to deal with the negative side effects of medication:

  • Consulting with your doctor is always the first step and, ultimately, the only medical advice you should take. Their guidance will be there to help you build a course of action that is based on expertise to help you safely overcome these side effects.
  • You’ll also want to audit your life for your doctor. This means taking note of medication, lifestyle changes, how you feel, etc.
  • Research your symptoms and the drugs you are using. No, you shouldn’t just take everything you read as gospel, but you can speak to your physician about the experiences of others, dosage reduction, alternative treatments, etc.

Finding the right drugs and drug coverage can help you receive affordable medication that doesn’t harm your mental health. It’s impossible to overcome aging and mental health issues when your prescriptions negatively affect you. Speak with your doctors, voice your concerns, and construct a plan that works for your overall healthcare, not just part of it.

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