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  • Becoming Mentally Healthy: A Guide for Older Adults

    PD Seniors 099 What does it mean to be mentally healthy? While there are many possible definitions, mentally healthy people can face challenges in a positive way, recover from setbacks, create and maintain good relationships, and find meaning in their lives.
    It is just as important for someone in their 70s to have good mental health as it is for someone in their 30s. Being older does not diminish the need for well being. There are steps you can take to improve your mental health, no matter if you are in your 70s, 80s, 90s, or beyond!

    Ways You Can Improve Your Mental Health

    Take Care of Your Body

    Your mental health and physical health are linked. For example, if you have cardiovascular disease or recently had heart surgery, you have an increased risk of depression. Depression itself has been associated with a number of medical conditions, including coronary artery disease (CAD).
    So how can you help your body and mind? You can begin by looking at your sleep schedule. Your goal should be to get eight hours of shut-eye each night. If you are having any sleep problems, like difficulty falling asleep or not feeling refreshed when you wake up, talk to your doctor. She can further investigate the problem and give you tips for creating better sleep habits, like going to bed at the same time each night and creating a quiet, “sleep-friendly” environment.
    Exercise is another important ingredient in your healthy lifestyle. Whether you enjoy walking every morning, swimming at the YMCA, or doing yoga, there is sure to be an activity that is a good match for your overall health and fitness level. Haven’t exercised in a long time? Make an appointment with your doctor to find out what types of exercises are safe for you.
    Healthy meals give your body the fuel it needs to function properly. You will not have the energy to exercise if you have a poor diet! But what should be on your plate? The United States Department of Agriculture’s Choose MyPlate recommends fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and low-sodium foods. If you are under- or overweight and need help with your diet, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietician. She can create a meal plan just for you.

    Take Care of Your Mind

    Your mind enjoys exercise too! You can challenge yourself by learning a new computer program, taking a watercolor class, or reading a classic novel. Explore your interests! If there is something you have always wanted to tackle, maybe now is a good time to try it.

    Take Care of Your Relationships

    Humans are meant to socialize. That does not change with age! Make time for your close family members and friends. While the moments you share can be as simple as getting a coffee together or taking a stroll in the park, the caring and support you provide each other make your life more meaningful.
    If your loved ones do not live near you, there are many opportunities to meet people and create positive relationships. For example, you can find out what events are offered at your local senior center, join a fitness group, volunteer, or even work part-time at a job that you enjoy.

    Take Care of You

    Are there things that you really enjoy, like reading your favorite magazine or walking on the beach? While your life may feel busy, try hard to set aside time to do activities that give you pleasure.
    If you are not sure how to fit in “you” time because of a packed schedule, remember that it is okay to decline an invitation, especially if you feel that you need some solitude and relaxation.

    What If You Need Help?

    If you ever feel concerned about your mental health, know that there is help available. It is a positive step for you to take care of yourself! Many people start by talking with their primary care doctor, who can make a referral to a therapist. There are also organizations online, like the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, which provide contact information for therapists in your area.
    Even if you do not feel that you are struggling right now, it is still a good idea to learn about common mental health problems that affect older adults, like depression, anxiety, dementia, and addiction. Find out what the risk factors and symptoms are. This way, if you do have a problem, you can seek help early on!


    Geriatric Mental Health Foundation http://www.gmhfonline.org/

    Mental Health America http://www.nmha.org/


    Canadian Mental Health Association http://www.cmha.ca/

    Mental HealthHealth Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/mental/index-eng.php


    10 tips for improving the mental health of older adults. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/olderadults/10tips. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    ChooseMyPlate.org website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/index.html. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Common mental health problems. Mental Health and Aging website. Available at: http://www.mhaging.org/guide/problems.html. Updated February 9, 2006. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Healthy aging. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/aging.htm. Updated May 20, 2011. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Hilts D. Mental health needs and older adults. Cape Fear Healthy Minds.org website. Available at: http://www.capefearhealthyminds.org/library.cgi?article=1115920457. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    How much sleep do we really need? National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Improving emotional health. Help Guide.org website. Available at: http://helpguide.org/mental/mental%5Femotional%5Fhealth.htm. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Mental health and mental illness. Mental Health and Aging website. Available at: http://www.mhaging.org/guide/mhmi.html. Updated February 9, 2006. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Mental health, mental illness, healthy aging: a NH guide for older adults and caregivers. National Allliance on Mental Illness website. Available at: http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Home4/Home%5FPage%5FSpotlights/Spotlight%5F1/Guidebook.pdf. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Pozuelo L. Depression and heart disease. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/stress/depressionandheart.aspx. Updated September 2009. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Sleeping well as you age. Help Guide.org website. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleep%5Faging.html. Accessed August 11, 2011.

    Wulsin LR, Singal BM. Do depressive symptoms increase the risk for the onset of coronary disease? A systematic quantitative review. Psychosom Med. 2003;65(2):201-210.

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