Mental Health Awareness Month
Last month, April was recognized as Parkinson’s awareness month but this month, May, is where people raise awareness about mental health. The main concentration of this blog will revolve around raising more knowledge and how to help improve the mental health of the senior community. The four methods that improve senior mental health that will be highlighted in this post are music, pets, cooking, and brain games. All these things might seem simple and not effective when it’s actually the complete opposite, all those methods are very powerful in their own way.
Mental Health in the United States
Mental health for individuals within our great country of the United States isn’t exactly in a good state, here is a sad but true statistic out there that might turn your head. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the state, “Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019)” (NIMH). That stat is just a hard pill to swallow within itself and keep in mind that not all mental illnesses are the same with some being more severe than others. But that stat is just the general population, not just seniors which is the focus of this article. The World Health Organization states this about seniors that suffer from a mental illness, “Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder” (WHO). That slims the number of actual people down a bit from the previous stat but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is still a lot of seniors suffer from a mental health issue.
Types of Mental Health Issues Among Seniors
There is a long list of mental illnesses that seniors suffer from with a huge variety of signs, effects, and cures (if possible). Most of the mental issues for seniors frequently stem from dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. The Chicago Methodist Senior Services states, “6 million Americans over the age of 65 are affected by depression and as many as 5 million may have Alzheimer’s” (CMSS). That’s not including the other major issues like anxiety, stress, or any phobia that contribute to the decline of a senior’s mental health. Eleven million seniors are just affected by those two disorders, so now hopefully you are starting to realize how serious of a problem mental health is for the senior community.
This can be your great grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, spouse, etc. that are over the age of 60 can be suffering from a mental illness and are trying to keep it behind the scenes. Being transparent with them and talking to them about how they really feel mentally can lead to a better understanding of how you can help them start living a better life.
The Four Improvement Methods
Now keep in mind that we only are going to expand on four methods that help aid a senior’s mental health when there are hundreds if not thousands of methods to help in this area. The methods are something that any senior can input into their daily routine to make them smile more and focus on their gift of life more every single day.
The first method that can really help improve the state of a senior’s mental health is simply found in the art of music. Music is a very powerful and therapeutic tool that can alter anyone’s mood depending on what mood they are in. Music is so powerful in fact that it actually triggers certain hormones within us that make us feel a certain way. According to Bethesda Health and the National Institute of Health, “Music can lower the body’s level of cortisol, a hormone that can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. It can also trigger other chemical reactions in the brain, stimulating positive feelings” (Bethesda/NIH). The science is there that backs up all these statements about music and all of its features like the beat, melody, and rhythm that can clear away lots of mental health issues for seniors.
Music doesn’t just stop there with its effects on the emotional state of any senior in the community. Music can also extremely decrease the level of a senior’s depression if they are suffering from it. It will make seniors feel less lonely and more relaxed which can lead to a much more positive mood overall. Music also brings people together; you can bond with other individual(s) on another level with music that you couldn’t with other common interests. Making seniors express themselves to others in ways that they never have before, giving them new memories and fun moments in their life.
Another great thing about this art form is that there is so much variety to pick from and connect with by genre. For example, you could’ve had a bad day at work and you’re feeling a little angry, so you turn on the radio to pump out your stress with some tunes. But the first station that you turn on is jazz and you’re listening to Miles Davis with the sounds of a smooth, relaxing trumpet. To be clear, we aren’t bashing the legendary Miles Davis, it just doesn’t fit the current mood you are in. So, you then flip to the metal station for something a little heavier and Metallica comes on with Kirk Hammett ripping the guitar on the Fade To Black solo. You start to bang your head a little bit, then a little bit more, you start to pipe out the lyrics, and just feel completely immersed in the song as if you were seeing them live in concert. That’s the power of music and that’s why it can create those new memories for you to reminisce on.
Music can also really help those seniors who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s in the same way. It does something very powerful for seniors with those diseases, it can trigger memories or make them remember things that they couldn’t before. According to the Mayo Clinic, they state, “Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease” (MC). Now, music is not a cure for those diseases in any way but it does help with boosting their mental health state to enjoy the moment more. Imagine looking at someone you know with Alzheimer’s, they start tapping their feet to the beat, singing and might grab your hand with a big smile on their face knowing that you two have a memory in the past of listening to this certain song. Music creates never-ending memories for eternity and should be recognized as one of the most beneficial tools for senior’s mental health.
The second improvement method revolves around a fellow companion that will give you a reason to smile every single day. That companion is a pet, a pet can seriously help any senior with a mental health issue due to an absurd number of benefits that come from them. There are certain kinds of pets that people tend to gravitate to more to become a part of their family. The top three animals that are recognized as the most popular pets in the US are dogs, cats, and fish. Dogs are in over 48 million households, cats are in a little less than 32 million homes, and fish are in just over a million (Cirjak). Proving the fact that just people in general just like having a pet within their home because it tends to make a house a home.
Let’s talk about the mental benefits that seniors gain from owning a pet of their choice. Firstly, pets increase levels of serotonin, and once that is activated in the brain people feel happier. According to Irina Bancos from hormone.org, she states, “Serotonin is in the brain. It is thought to regulate mood, happiness, and anxiety. Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression” (Bancos). Secondly, getting old can negatively affect your self-esteem because you feel like you are not capable of what you could do when you were younger. Not feeling like you can be loved anymore plays a huge part within your self-esteem, but pets make you feel loved and needed in their lives and yours. Having good self-esteem can go a long way for seniors and pets can boost that from the immediate moment they get a new furry friend. Lastly, pets can actually reduce your blood pressure and there are a lot of seniors in today’s world that suffer from high blood pressure. According to the Institute of Medicine, they state, “Reports on the prevalence of high blood pressure in the elderly indicate that between 30 and 50 percent of persons over the age of 50 may have chronic hypertension” (IOM). With those numbers, it really seems like a no-brainer for any senior with high blood pressure to get a pet for the sole fact that it will benefit their overall health.
There are plenty of other benefits that seniors receive from pets and the proof is in the pudding from a bunch of studies/research. According to Jamie Ducharme from TIME magazine, she states, “Nearly 90% of older pet owners said their animals helped them enjoy life and feel loved; roughly 80% said their pets reduced stress, and almost three-quarters said their furry friends provided a sense of purpose” (Ducharme). Just another stat that proves that pets are beneficial for all seniors around the world. Just imagine being completely infatuated by a pet that can’t even talk, but can love you more than you could ever imagine. They make your mental state stronger and give you something to look forward to seeing every time you wake up.
The third, and our personal favorite, a method that can help improve any senior’s mental health is all done in the kitchen. Cooking provides mental benefits and provides you with a delicious meal that fills your belly with joy. Lots of seniors cook already, whether that be a simple Tuesday lunch for yourself or a massive Thanksgiving dinner for the whole family. According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, they state, “The majority of adults age 50–80 said they enjoyed cooking (71%), and most were confident cooking with basic ingredients (86%)” (NPHA). There is just a quick statistic to put it into better perspective that shows how many seniors actually cook.
When you’re cooking anything, ranging from a PBJ to a seven-course meal, for yourself or others you feel a sense of accomplishment when the food is ready to eat. It might not seem like a huge accomplishment but small goal completions add up over time to help improve senior’s mental health. In an article called “7 Surprising Ways Cooking Can Boost Your Mental Health” by Kat Smith, she states, “This fits within a type of therapy known as “behavioral activation.” Used to treat depression and anxiety, behavioral activation is a focus on increasing “the patient’s contact with sources of reward” (Smith). You get to look at the dish that you made and say “I did this” which is something that no one else can take away from you. Your self-esteem will also go up from cooking, making you more confident and relieving you from stress.
Cooking can also spike one’s creativity and trigger memories for seniors suffering from any form of mental struggle. It’s just you, the food, and your equipment when you’re in the kitchen, making you feel like you’re in your own little world. Freedom to do what you want in the kitchen brings this new sense of creativity for seniors that gives them the ability to explore new avenues for certain dishes. Say that you made a dish with a new twist, everyone loves it, and that makes you happy because you can believe in your ability to make something delicious. Say that the new twist didn’t taste good, that means you have something to prove in the kitchen and makes you try again until it’s scrumptious.
Our fourth and final recommended method to help improve a senior’s mental health in a variety of brain games may seem childish but it’s true. Games like sudoku or bingo stimulate multiple senses at once like hearing, sight, and touch which goes a long way for a senior’s mental health. Here are the amazing benefits of playing sudoku: Improves your memory, stimulates your mind, reduces the chances of developing Alzheimer’s, learns to do things quickly, increases concentration power, and gives you a sense of accomplishment (Lee). The other game was bingo which is fun for anyone at any age really, but seniors tend to play it more frequently within their communities. Bingo brings people together which decreases loneliness, it also triggers the three senses we mentioned before, and increases a positive state of mind.
Bingo and sudoku are only two of the many brain games for seniors, those just tend to be the most popular amongst the older communities. Other things like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, word puzzles, connections game, trivia, chess, and even video games. All those games can trigger certain areas of the brain that lead to happiness, accomplishment, relaxation, concentration, and much more. This shows that brain games lead to a lot of positive mental benefits behind the scenes for seniors, don’t believe the stigma that promotes games is negative. Now, some games can be negative, games like violent video games and other things of that nature aren’t consumed much by the senior community.
Turn on some tunes, get a pet, cook a delectable meal, or play a quick game of sudoku. We hope that the four methods above shine some light on a way to help improve mental health for those seniors in need of that. Keep promoting mental health awareness every may and throughout the year in any way you can, recommend activities, share stories, or just talk to people about a personal experience. One in five individuals in today’s world struggle with a mental illness so any awareness raised is appreciated across the whole community.
Also if none of those methods seem to work for some reason then we recommend going see show professional help for more answers or click here for a multitude of resources that are all about promoting one’s mental health. Remember that you aren’t alone and people struggle with mental health every day, don’t ever hesitate to pursue help at any time.