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Mental health for seniors can often be neglected. Life gets in the way with children and grandchildren, retiring, downsizing or an increased focus on physical health. As we age, we know it’s more important than ever to take care of our bodies, but we forget our minds. Ironically, many transitions that keep seniors busy—family, life changes, ending your career, moving—can take an even bigger toll on mental health. Alternatively, some seniors may slow down and spend more time alone, resulting in other mental illnesses or general sadness. 

The Center for Disease Control estimates that seven million Americans over 65 experience depression every year. Depression and other mental health issues can have serious health complications, such as an increased risk for heart disease or substance abuse. 

The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week and October 10 is World Mental Health Day. To celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of tips to improve mental health for seniors.  

1. Pick up a New Book 

Reading engages your mind in ways that television doesn’t: it has the ability to improve memory. According to a recent study from JAMA Psychiatry, reading books alongside other cognitive activities can decrease your chances of developing dementia by 50 percent. 

Try reading for at least half an hour every day. If you struggle with long periods of reading, try to break up your reading time throughout the day. For example, you could read a chapter of a book in the morning, read while eating lunch or before bed. As a bonus, reading before your bedtime allows you to avoid potential harmful screen time. Studies show blue light from your TV, phone, computer, etc. can impact sleep quality. 

To further improve your sleep, read our blog with eight ways for seniors to get better sleep

2. Create a Consistent Exercise Routine 

Exercise has the potential to positively affect mental health for seniors. According to a recent study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “physical activity is a protective factor for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer, and is associated with improved mental health, delay in the onset of dementia, and improved quality of life and wellbeing.” 

According to the NCBI experts, physical activity’s efficacy comes from the exercise’s duration and difficulty. Seniors should aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week. (To put it in perspective, your goal should be 30 minutes of exercise at least five times per week.) You should also follow the ‘overload’ principle of training—exercise hard enough for the activity to be challenging. Walking, yoga, running, and light weight lifting are excellent options or try these senior exercise ideas

3. Play Brain-Training Games 

Brain-training exercises can have a dramatic effect on seniors’ mental health. A 2015 survey conducted by King’s College London found that brain training led to significant cognitive improvements. Participants in the survey experienced a 30 percent increase in verbal and reasoning tests compared to their starting numbers. 

The best brain training takes the form of games. Try a few of these games to flex your mental muscles: 

  • Logic puzzles (like crosswords) 
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Sudoku
  • Trivia games
  • Chess

The best part? Recent research suggests that seniors can improve cognition with just five minutes of brain-training each day. 

4. Socialize 

As we age, socialization is absolutely critical. Isolation can have many negative effects on mental health for seniors. According to a 2019 study from The University of Michigan and AARP, one in three adults over 50 reported feeling lonely. The survey also stated that “older adults who reported being socially active every day or several times a week were less likely to report a lack of companionship or feeling isolated.”

From improved mental health, increased confidence and better quality of life, it’s clear that regular socialization is key for improving mental health. What are the best ways to socialize for seniors? 

  • Community programs
  • Volunteering
  • Family gatherings 
  • Exercise, whether in a class or just with a walking buddy 
  • Attending a class at a local university or organization 

Make Mental Health for Seniors a Priority 

Whether it’s for your loved one or yourself, don’t neglect the importance of mental health and wellness. Just as life can be busy and get in the way of self-care, we can also become more introverted and lonely as we age. Whatever the case, mental health should never be put on the backburner. Use the above activities to help improve mental wellness and always remember to contact a professional if you feel you need further help.

There should be no stigma around mental illness—it should be treated like any other physical illness, condition or disease. 

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