Explore how senior living can improve mental health for seniors. Seniorly explains how mental health can improve for seniors who live in a senior community.
Andy Rooney cleverly observed the paradox of aging in our society: “the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”
Indeed, the natural process of aging can force upon us decisions we would rather not make and compromises we would prefer to avoid. But when older adults struggle to perform tasks they once considered routine, it can impact their confidence, sense of agency and desire to engage in the world around them. And these small concessions to physical and cognitive limitations can have an enormous impact on overall mental wellbeing.
While there are many support systems that exist today to enable older adults to live happy and productive lives, the gerontological team at Seniorly has noted firsthand the positive impact that the right senior living community can have on aging outcomes and mental health. It’s our belief that the right environment can deepen engagement, create community, and provide a positive social structure for older adults, in addition to providing assistance with everyday chores and activities of daily living (ADLs).
Senior living communities (often called independent living or assisted living) provide seniors with housing, meals, safety, and community support networks. Seniors can typically choose among various packages and levels of services to meet their specific needs and level of care needed. Older adults are relieved of the burden of everyday chores like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, or transportation. For those struggling to manage activities of daily living, like getting dressed or bathing, an assisted living community provides round-the-clock support.
Seniors also have the comfort of knowing that they live in safer environments. From wider hallways, fewer stairs, elevators, and support rails, seniors are allowed to move more freely around the community without falling or fear of falling. Reducing this fear can help reduce their anxiety levels.
But most senior living communities also provide structured services that can help stave off loneliness, lack of physical activity and overall engagement. A well-run senior living community will provide ample opportunity for activity: from chair yoga to movie night, from happy hour to gardening, senior living professionals know how to create a community through shared activity. And it’s exactly this kind of structure and routing that, at least for some, is the key to feeling engaged again.
At its core, a healthy approach to aging has elements of not only physical but also mental health. In 2021, 27% (or 15.2 million) of older adults living in the community lived alone. And while we know that living alone may promote independence, it can also lead to loneliness and social isolation - even around friends and family.
A focus on socialization can improve mental health by providing a sense of purpose and of belonging while reducing feelings of loneliness or isolation. Participating in social activities is a great way to keep seniors physically and mentally active, which has many health benefits such as keeping older adults engaged and in good mental health and spirits.
Loneliness and isolation are common among seniors. Social isolation and loneliness can be linked to higher risks for different types of physical health and mental health conditions: heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, severe cognitive impairment, and death.
To lessen the negative effects of loneliness in older adults, loved ones must be proactive about providing seniors with engaging activities and staying connected with them through any platform, such as social media for phone calls, FaceTime, or chats online when they can't physically visit.
Senior living communities can be an important part of aging successfully. These communities provide seniors with the opportunity for social engagement, mental stimulation, and physical exercise, which have been shown to help maintain independence as we age. While there are many benefits associated with being around others who share your experiences in life, here are seven benefits of senior living for aging adults:
Social connections and interactions. Older people can make new friends and interact with others over a crossword puzzle, board games, book club, wellness class, or learn a new skill or hobby with their new friends.
Access to amenities. Senior living communities provide residents with easy access to a variety of amenities that can improve their overall quality of life, including fitness centers, pools, libraries, places of worship, hair salons, and more. This can minimize the need to depend on others for rides to any of these appointments.
Home maintenance. When seniors live on their own, it is often more difficult for them to complete tasks that are necessary for home maintenance, such as cleaning gutters, shoveling snow, changing filters, and mowing the grass. In a senior living community, basic maintenance is taken care of for them..
Staff oversight. When you live in a senior living facility, the staff and health care providers see you on a regular basis and are able to observe small changes in your health and attend better to your personal care and overall health.
Increased physical activity. Senior living allows seniors to move around and get regular exercise more than they would in their own homes. Having access to therapies and fitness classes can help to strengthen seniors against the risk of falls. It can improve their strength and muscles by strength training while they take a daily walk and help with mobility issues. Physical activity can also reduce stress and anxiety.
Cooking and shopping. Most senior living communities make regular trips to grocery stores or offer meal plans to suit individual needs. You’ll have a kitchen to cook, but can also join friends in the congregate dining area. These amenities ensure the senior is getting adequate nutrition, which can impact health and wellbeing, if neglected.
Support for mental health conditions. Senior living communities can be an essential and valuable part of the solution for seniors with mental health issues. The social support system offered by these locations that recognize symptoms when necessary provides a much-needed helping hand to struggling individuals. The community is also a great resource for those who just want someone close at hand during challenging times.
It is clear that senior living communities provide many benefits for seniors, from social support to mental health-related care. If you are a senior who is looking for ways to stay in your home for as long as possible, or if you are a caregiver of an aging loved one, it is important to consider the many advantages of senior communities.
Marlena del Hierro is Vice President of Partnerships and Seniorly’s Lead Gerontologist. Marlena earned her Master of Arts degree in Gerontology from San Francisco State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development from California State University. She also serves in an advisory capacity for Jukebox Health. As Seniorly’s first employee, Marlena is a vocal advocate for evolving the aging paradigm, and is a frequent contributor to public discussions about aging. She has served as a resource for media outlets like WGBH, FOX News, CNBC and the Today Show.
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