5 Ways Seniors Can Enhance Mental Health

Depression can strike at any age, but for seniors in the United States, and for residents of nursing homes in particular, the rates of depression are startling high. According to a study undertaken under the auspices of the CDC in 2013, half of all nursing home residents had a diagnosis of depression in 2011–2012. Over the same period, an equivalent number of nursing home residents had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, suggesting a likelihood of significant overlap. Assisting residents of nursing homes control, reduce or even overcome their diagnosis of depression is of central importance to safeguarding the quality of life of these seniors. This article briefly overviews five strategies for enhancing the mental health of seniors living in nursing homes.

1.      Homelike Environment

One of the most important strategies that can be used in nursing homes for the promotion of residents’ mental health is the development of a homelike environment. To feel ‘at home’ in one’s living space is to feel connected to and comfortable within that space; and to feel a sense of control over and value within that space. All of the below strategies complement this overarching goal by helping residents to form attachments to place, increasing their comfort, and making them feel necessary in that place.   

2.      Reflection

Life review is a powerful strategy for helping people to reflect on and perhaps reevaluate their pasts, to promote feelings of appreciation for one’s experiences and life. The result can be a reduction in depression, including in people with dementia. Aspects of life review, such as guided life writing and displays aimed at prompting reminiscence, can be incorporated by care staff into nursing home environments. However, for residents with a history of trauma or a diagnosis of severe depression, a therapist trained in life review is needed.

3.      Music and Arts

Music therapy is a well-known and cost-effective technique for the amelioration of depressive symptoms in nursing home residents, especially those with dementia. Additional benefits include improvements in agitation levels, disruptive behaviors, communication, and staff interactions, as well as reduced need for medications. While delivery by a trained music therapist is ideal, elements of music therapy, such as listening to music and coral signing can be implemented by suitable care staff.

4.      Gardening

Another area of growing interest in relation to its effect on depressive symptoms is gardening. Although the benefits for depression are not conclusive, there is some indication that enjoying the out-of-doors through gardens and gardening promotes general wellbeing. If well planned for by facility staff, gardening can engage residents in physical, purposeful activity, during which there is opportunity for collaboration with and support of and by other residents, as well as a dose of that all-important Vitamin D. Where possible, edibles from the garden should be used in the kitchen, and flowers picked to decorate common areas, to reinforce the value of residents’ gardening efforts.

5.      Familiar and Purposeful Tasks

Residents’ feeling of contributing to the nursing home is an essential aspect of creating a homelike environment, and the active involvement of residents in the daily running of the facility is a powerful tool in lowering rates of depression, including in residents with dementia. For example, residents might be invited to perform familiar and purposeful tasks such as helping to fold washing, clear away dishes or help other residents less capable than themselves.

By creating the kinds of living spaces in which seniors feel comfortable, connected, and valued, nursing homes can expect to see lower rates of depression among residents. The above strategies are just some of the myriad ways in which opportunities for healthy, enjoyable, and purposeful activities can be provided to nursing home residents, whose engagement in these activities may result in their improved mental health status.

Posted by editor on Tue, 03 Jan 2017 08:01

 

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