Over the last few years, the topic of mental health in the UK has been in sharper focus due to more and more people suffering with illnesses such as mood and emotional disorders as well as the rising number of suicides. According to Mental Health.org the UK population is ageing rapidly, with the number of people aged 65 and over growing by nearly half in the past 30 years. Longer lives are cause for celebration, but more elderly people are suffering with mental health problems.

The World Health Organisation found that 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder. Older adults are at risk of developing mental health, neurological and substance use problems as well as other health conditions such as diabetes, hearing loss and osteoarthritis. Mental Health disorders often stem from a mixture of health conditions that are experienced as people age.

The impact of the global pandemic, leading to national lockdown and the implications of social distancing rules, isolation and quarantine have taken an enormous toll on the mental health of many of us. Charities including Mind, Samaritans and Calm have all reported an increase in people seeking their advice and support.

This article from The Live in Care Company looks at a number of ways in which you can help your ederly friends and relatives combat mental health at a time when creativity, togetherness and strength of spirit has been more invaluable than ever.

Make a friendly phone call 

According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation which can take a serious toll on health. Calling your elderly relative so that they can hear a friendly and familiar voice can make a world of difference to their overall state of mine. A little goes a long way and a phone call shows you care and gives you the opportunity to share stories, memories and laughs.

Enlist a live in carer

If you feel your elderly relative is truly struggling on their own and may be in need of practical help, care and  companionship, then a live-in carer may just be the answer. With various types of live in care available such as; companionship care, overnight care and general live in care, a live in carer can provide company, assistance and friendship for those who need a helping hand. Should your relative struggle with their independence, mobility, cognitive function or other physical abilities, a live-in carer can be there for your loved one at any time, day or night. Specially trained, live in carers can provide comfort and reassurance, as well as a friendly face to enjoy meals with and spend time with.

Introduce them to new helplines

If your loved one is particularly struggling with loneliness due to self isolation or shielding and they need more communication than you can give, introducing them to support networks such as Friends of the Elderly or Silverline can bridge the gap more frequently to weekly or fortnightly friendship calls from volunteers who enjoy talking to older people.

Talking to someone new or meeting someone has been proven to have a positive impact on our cognitive function, and can be a real boost for an elderly person.

Source interesting games or puzzles

Engaging in games and puzzles can be an effective way to connect with someone and distract them should they be struggling with loneliness or mental health issues. Games offer escapism and can be good for cognitive function as the brain is challenged in new ways. Games and puzzles also encourage interaction and can be a great conversation starter for both you and your loved one to see how they are getting on with their new challenge. If they lived with a live-in carer, they would be the perfect opponent! Otherwise, if your loved one is tech savvy, perhaps a facetime or virtual online quiz could be the answer.

Encourage them to stay active at home

Whether by taking the time to do stretching, taking a walk in the garden or simple chair exercises, it is important to keep active at an older age. If your loved one is physically able to, then encourage some light-hearted and simple activities they can do at home. There are many reasons why physical activity is good for your body – having a healthy heart and improving your joints and bones are just two, but physical activity is also beneficial for your mental health and wellbeing. Even 10 minutes of light exercise can increase your mental alertness, energy and overall mood.

Reach out to charities 

Loneliness in the elderly is not a new problem, and there are many organisations and charities that help tackle the issue:

  • Age UK has a network of local Age UK groups across the country who offer their support in a number of ways to suit your loved ones needs. An Active Buddy, can help someone become more physically active and a Befriender visits someone who lives alone.
  • Contact the Elderly holds monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for over-75s
  • Independent Age will match you to a volunteer who you can then drop round for regular coffees and chats.
  • The Royal Voluntary Service will help an older person with little tasks, such as doing their shopping and taking their dog for a walk, or delivering meals.

Send gifts 

A simple but effective way to connect with a loved one and combat their loneliness or anxiety is to get in touch with a gift. Maybe send a card, some flowers or choose a gift with a meaning that will resonate with them. This can help your elderly loved one remember that you’re there for them, even if you cannot physically spend time with them at the moment. The gift could also provide them with stimulus and distraction, such as a good book, or craft activity that they enjoy.

By Editor