If you care for an older parent or loved one, or are simply worried about their wellbeing, you might be wondering how to help them live a happier, healthier life.
Although some of them are obvious — stop smoking, stay active — there are many aspects of health and happiness that you might not have considered before.
Did you know there are eight dimensions of wellness for older adults? These eight dimensions cover all aspects of our lives, from our physical and emotional health to our cognitive and spiritual well-being. What researchers have come to understand is that each part of wellness is interconnected and affects your overall health and happiness.
For example, having a safe and clean living environment (contextual) will help your loved one feel organized and in control (emotional). It can also be a way for them to get physical activity (physical) in as well and offers the chance for them to work together with others to maintain the home and yard (relational).
So if you want to help your loved one age well across the eight dimensions of wellness for older adults, here are some things you can do.
1. Encourage a Positive Mindset Around Aging
Is your dad always telling you that he can’t do what his physical therapist asks him to try? Or maybe your mom always says she feels too weak and tired to go on a walk with the grandkids?
Developmental wellness is all about your perceptions of aging. To help your parent achieve a more positive outlook on getting older, encourage them to focus on what they can do, not what they can’t. For example, if cooking a specialty meal requires more than the normal steps, ask your mother to help you prep the vegetables or set the table, versus simply making the dinner for her.
2. Engage Their Brain
Many older adults assume they have very little control of their cognitive functioning. However, a growing body of research shows that cognitive decline may not be inevitable or irreversible.
Cognitive wellness is about exercising the mind, engaging in lifelong learning, and having confidence in your ability to expand your knowledge and skills. To help your parent maintain an optimal level of cognitive wellness, help them check out local college websites for information on online classes they offer to the public. See what kind of skills training — such as writing, learning a new language, or improving computer skills — might be available.
3. Move More and Sit Less
Many older adults fear that exercise puts them at risk of falling or that they’re too weak or have too many aches and pains to exercise. In fact, seniors over the age of 74 experience the largest relative gains in survival and healthy life from physical activity.
To help your loved one improve their physical wellness, explore ways for them to add more movement to their daily routine. Maybe that looks like your parent walking to the mailbox instead of waiting for you to bring the mail in. Or perhaps they join you for a tai chi practice a few times a week.
4. Be Available to Listen to Upsetting Emotions
Old age can be seen as a succession of losses, gradual or sudden: stopping work, losing a spouse, becoming ill, failing eyesight. These and other changes often give rise to difficult emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and lowered self-esteem, which in turn lead to social withdrawal and apathy.
If your loved one doesn’t have a place where they can express their feelings, it can really hurt their emotional wellness. To help your loved one exhibit resilience when challenges arise, give them the space they need to be sad without attempting to cheer them up. Listen to them and allow them to vent their emotions and feelings as much as possible.
5. Expand Their Sense of Purpose
Spiritual wellness is about having a sense of purpose and meaning in life. While spirituality can help you cope with aging, it can also be challenged by the many social, psychological, and physical losses your loved one may be experiencing.
To help your parent expand their sense of purpose and give more meaning to their days, see how you can help them make time for activities that enhance their sense of connection to themselves, to nature, and to others. That might look like volunteering for a local organization or spending time in nature.
6. Connect Regularly
As people age, it becomes harder, and eventually impossible, to avoid the loss of close relationships. But human beings are social creatures.
One of the best things you can do for your aging loved one is to make it easy for them to connect regularly with friends and family: Teach them how to schedule Zoom meetings with old friends. Create a schedule so someone in your family is connecting with your loved one on the phone each day. Whatever your loved one’s living situation, they shouldn’t be alone day after day.
7. Get Involved in the Community
Vocational wellness is defined by a sense of meaning and purpose based in life pursuits. But for many adults, their daily activities might seem trivial or they might not have a good sense of what they’re trying to accomplish in life.
To help your loved one maintain optimal vocational wellness, find ways for them to get involved in their community. Volunteer work can be a great way of using and passing on the skills your parent homed in their career while also helping others.
8. Make Life at Home Safe
The environment around you can greatly impact how you feel, and older adults experience many changes to their finances and environment as they age.
One of the ways you can support your loved one’s contextual wellness is to help them have a peaceful home environment. Being in a nurturing and healthy environment will help them to feel overall more fulfilled. That might look like making sure their home is decluttered. Or it could be working to address their fear of falling.
9. Take a Wellness Assessment
There are so many opportunities for your loved one to enhance their wellness, but there are components of wellness that neither of you may have considered before. Taking a wellness assessment can help your loved one to identify what areas of their life are fulfilled and healthy and what areas need improvement and attention. Then you can work together to make a plan with concrete and realistic steps you can take toward healthier habits and a better well-being.
We created this Healthy Aging Assessment and Worksheet to do just that. No matter your loved one’s current health or age, there are ways to promote healthy aging and create a happy and fulfilled lifestyle.