What works to promote emotional wellbeing in older people
Many of our integratedliving team members spend their time directly assisting our clients to live well and independently in their homes in regional, rural and remote Australia. Not only do they practically support them, they also check on their emotional health and aim to leave them feeling better on the inside and the out.
They are skilled at improving older adults’ mental and emotional wellbeing. We’ve collated some of their top strategies here so we can all learn how to provide emotional support for our senior loved ones.
According to Stephen, a Registered Nurse and healthcare veteran of nearly 50 years, it is essential to make people feel heard first and to follow up afterwards. He uses tools learnt in ‘Breaking Down the Barriers to Change’ communication studies. These are:
- PAUSE – Take a deep breath, or a couple.
- ACKNOWLEDGE – their present situation.
- VALIDATE – put yourself in their shoes, and connect with their emotion and situation.
- LISTEN - ACTIVELY – to understand what the person is communicating to you.
- PROCEED (only after they feel sincerely heard) – now you have formed a connection with the person, they will be more receptive to what you might be able to offer them.
- FOLLOW-UP – check in with them soon after so they know you care. This is critical to ease their anxiety about sharing with you. Follow up on assurances or commitments you made to them, if you did. Check that they are okay, and let them know they can stay in touch with you as and when needed, if this is the case.
integratedliving Social Worker Amelia advises that it can take multiple efforts to provide emotional support for senior loved ones. Amelia said it usually takes numerous attempts to connect with those who need it most, especially those who feel lonely or isolated.
“If this person has withdrawn, they're unlikely to jump at your first invitation to come out,” Amelia said. “Keep inviting them out, drop by, make phone calls and eventually you might find that person’s able to come around.
“At the end of the day it's their decision and you can't force a person to come out, but it’s really important to reinforce the message that you care about them.”
Amelia said it’s common for people to initially think, ‘oh, they don't actually want to hang out with me,’ so reaching out in multiple ways is often necessary. You might verbalise the following suggestions:
- ‘Hey, let's spend some time together’
- ‘Let's go for a walk together’
- ‘Come to my house for a cup of tea’
- ‘What can I do that would be helpful for you?’
“They're going to get this idea that you actually do care about them and it's going to change the way they think in their mind as well,” Amelia said.
When you’re wanting to support a senior loved one who is grieving a loss or feeling lonely, Amelia recommends:
- be there for them
- stay connected with them
- make phone calls to them
“That's a really way to good way to support them,” Amelia said. “And if it's someone who's grieving, then I think one of the most important things we can do is actually to talk about the grief. Don't make it the elephant in the room – that's really hard for the person who's grieving. Instead, name it and to talk about it and talk about the loved one. Remember the good times. My clients have said it's so much easier if they can talk about it. But if they can't, then those days are really, really difficult.”
What to do when you find it uncomfortable to talk about the object of their grief
Many of us find it hard to talk about other people’s grief without getting caught in grief ourselves. Amelia suggests being open about that, too. “If you can acknowledge that it's uncomfortable, you're more than likely to find that the other person might say the same thing.
“If you can name it and say, ‘oh, I don't know if you feel comfortable talking about it, but I was just thinking about last time when we here on Christmas Day and Grandpa was doing this…’ Just see if people are comfortable with that,” Amelia said. “Chances are everyone will feel more comfortable about it being spoken, than it not being spoken.”
Six ways to boost emotional wellbeing in older adults:
There are numerous ways you can assist senior loved ones to feel better emotionally, mentally and socially. Amelia's top tips are:
1 – Visit your community centre – “You might find around the corner there's an amazing social group happening so go and check out your neighbourhood centre to see what's going on." There might be a Wellness Centre near you?
2 – Find out what’s happening in their local community – “See what's going on in your area, in your community, because that's going to make you feel really good."
3 – Think small and simple – “You don't have to go out and do big things to be connected.” Small, doable acts done regularly can create a bigger change than one large ones that are hard to repeat.
4 Learn more about what integratedliving has on offer – “Reach out to integratedliving,” Amelia said. “See what wellness groups are happening, or other options. Where necessary, use technology that's available to you.”
5 Use technology to stay connected – “We’ve got FaceTime so we can connect face-to-face with people without being in the same room.”
6 Choose quality – “It’s about the quality of that connection. It's not about how many you do, or how many people there are. So see what's around you, what's available to you, and make the most of it.”
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