According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20% of people age 55 and older experience some type of mental health concern, such as depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder.
For millions, the pandemic made things worse, and they are still coping with the impact of the isolation and loneliness they experienced. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) offers nine tips that older adults can use to maintain or improve their mental health:
- If you have an existing mental health condition or substance use disorder, stay in touch with your counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist. Telemedicine — medical consultations via video or phone chat — has been widely adopted in these past two years and makes it easy to have an appointment. Under Medicare, healthcare providers can reduce or waive cost-sharing for telemedicine visits. Check with your provider about specifics.
- Engage in healthy activities. Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night; eat a healthy, well-balanced diet; do not smoke; and drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day or none at all. Exercise your body and mind. Meditation, walking, gardening, and doing exercise routines in your home or outside are all beneficial to your mental health. Visit your local senior center and learn about exercise classes or the many other engaging activities they have to offer.
- Manage your stress. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, deep breathing, and other stress management techniques can help relieve the physical symptoms of stress and make you feel more relaxed. Join a local meditation or yoga class, or find classes on YouTube to do at home.
- Stay connected with your family, friends, and other support networks. Having someone to talk to about your needs and feelings is vital for mental health. Contact at least one person per day for continued social connection. Consider asking one person to be your support buddy and have daily check-ins. Join a peer support group, stay connected through the phone or a video platform such as Zoom, or meet safely in person.
- Stick to regular routines as much as possible. During the pandemic, you most likely created a new routine to account for working at home, exercising indoors, caring for grandchildren, cleaning, and other daily activities. As the pandemic continues to evolve, integrate old and new enjoyable hobbies into your daily routine.
- Stay informed and take practical steps to protect yourself and loved ones. Check the risk level in your community on the CDC website. Since immunity fades in the normal process of aging, older adults are at the highest risk for COVID-19 illness, hospitalization, and death. Even if you are vaccinated and fully boosted, you should wear a mask when you are indoors with other people outside your immediate family.
- Try to be positive and enjoy the simple things in life. Research has demonstrated the incredible positive effect of appreciating the good things, even when they’re seemingly small. There’s wisdom in the saying, “stop and smell the roses.”
- Help others through peer support and check with your neighbors. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose and connection, which is vital for mental health.
- Visit BenefitsCheckUp.org to see if you qualify for assistance, such as paying for your prescription medications. Financial insecurity is a major source of stress, especially for older adults on fixed incomes. There are hundreds of assistance programs, many of them at the state or local level. This free, confidential tool helps you uncover them.