Care Providers Must Help Elderly Patients Maintain their Mental Well-Being

With the welcoming of the New Year, most of us have probably made at least one resolution for 2016.  While resolutions that revolve around the improvements in physical health are important—such as going to the gym more often and losing weight—resolutions that focus on the improvement of mental health are just as important, too.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.” A large number of studies support this statement. According to a study from 2012 published in The BMJ, for example, poor mental health is highly associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular illness and cancer.  Another study reported by Medical News Today showed that mental illness was significantly associated to higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Older adult residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are vulnerable to declines in mental health and must be given the proper care to maintain every aspect of their quality of life.

Good mental health is defined by WHO as the “state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” There is a variety of ways nursing home and assisted living facility staff can help elderly patients improve their mental health and well-being to ultimately enhance their quality of life.

It is important that seniors maintain a healthy, balanced diet to benefit both physical and mental health. A healthy diet appropriate for every older adult patient can help maintain a healthy weight and protect against a wide variety of diseases that include heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The maintenance of a healthy diet can also benefit cognitive functioning and even extend one’s lifespan. According to researchers studying the effects of a healthy diet on older adults, “Maintaining physical, cognitive, and mental health with aging may provide a more powerful incentive for dietary change than simply prolonging life or avoiding any single chronic disease.

Physical activity is well known to promote all aspects of health, including psychological well-being. One does not necessarily have to perform vigorous-intensity exercise to reap the benefits, however. Studies show that even walking is “an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise, and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster,” according to Dr. Sara Warber, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan.  She also adds that “something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”  Often times, it is not easy for seniors living in assisted living or nursing home facilities to get enough physical exercise, and this can take a major toll on their mental health. Care providers of these kinds of facilities should encourage residents to engage in appropriate physical activity to promote both their mental and physical well-being.