By LaBrena Friend, LBSW
When an older adult is experiencing new age-related problems, their friends and loved ones may not always recognize what is wrong. But by taking a few proactive steps, you can find out if an older adult you know or care for needs help – and you can be part of the solution.
- Recognize and address depression – Major life changes such as retirement, illness, a housing transition or the death of a spouse or partner can contribute to clinical depression in older adults. If your older friend or loved one is experiencing persistent sadness, hopelessness, irritability, fatigue or loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, they may be depressed. Speak with them about your concerns, and if your concerns seem warranted, encourage them to discuss the issue with their primary care physician, who can refer them for counseling or other treatment. Follow up with them in a week or two, and if they haven’t taken any action, try to facilitate a move toward getting them help.
- Help them feel useful and needed – After spending decades working or caring for children, some older adults feel useless once they retire. This is especially true when age-related physical limitations prevent them doing their own cleaning and cooking. In the CJFS Personal Care program, attendants collaborate with clients when appropriate. For example, one client recently told her attendant she wanted to prepare a favorite cake but wasn’t sure she could manage it. So, they worked together with the personal care attendant handled the mixing, lifting and cleaning, and the client was able to read the recipe and help with measuring. The client later shared that this activity had brough her great joy, as she had not been able to bake a cake in many years. Even allowing a loved one to make their own grocery list can help them feel they are active and engaged in their own care.
- Encourage regular physical activities – The health benefits of physical movement are well documented, and some of those benefits apply to emotional well-being, for people of every age. If your loved one lives in a facility where exercise classes are available, remind them to attend. Or simply spend time walking with your loved one in an environment. In the CJFS Personal Care program, clients will sometimes walk alongside our attendants as they carry the client’s clothing to and from the laundry room. Even these short walks in the hallways of their apartment buildings help to keep them active and engaged.
- Help them stay mentally active –Puzzles, games, adult coloring books and similar activities can help the brain remain sharp and responsive. In some facilities, residents form book clubs, knitting circles and coloring groups, or residents simply gather to work a shared crossword puzzle. Another way to stimulate the brain is to simply talk to your loved one about daily events or what’s happening in the news.
- Help them stay connected with family, friends and community – Many seniors are unable or hesitant to communicate on smartphones, which can leave them isolated and lonely at a time when that is the primary means of communication for many younger people. Arrange visits to your loved one. Stop by occasionally to share a meal with them, and encourage other family members to visit or call. If feasible, help your loved one adapt to technology that will help them stay in touch. If they have friends they’d like to visit, or an event they’d like to attend, try to facilitate those trips. By helping them remain connected with friends and family, you will be supporting their mental health.
CJFS supports older adults and their families as they navigate the journey of aging. Customized services include, but are not limited to, care management, emotional support, transportation and escorted medical visits. To learn more, call 205.879.3438.