If you care for an aging loved one, you probably spend a good deal of time thinking about their physical health needs. You might drive them to medical appointments, make sure they’re getting the right nutrition, and put measures in place to reduce their pain or discomfort. All of these actions are incredibly helpful for older adults, but it’s also important to consider your loved one’s emotional needs.
At every stage of life, we have emotional needs that must be fulfilled in order for us to feel truly happy and healthy. As you age, your emotional needs and the way you meet those needs may change. Friends, family, and caretakers can all do their part to make sure the emotional needs of older adults are met.
What Are the Emotional Needs of Seniors?
All seniors have different values and priorities, so the needs of your loved one may not be exactly the same as the needs of another individual. However, there are some core needs that virtually all older adults lean on. The following are a few examples:
- Social interaction
- Meaningful relationships
- Meaning and purpose
- Empathy and validation
- Independence and autonomy
How to Meet the Emotional Needs of Seniors
Seniors may rely more on others than younger adults for their needs to be met. If you have an aging loved one, you can take active steps to ensure that their emotional needs are fulfilled.
Here Are Seven Ways to Meet the Emotional and Mental Health Needs of Older Adults
1. Actively Listen
Everyone needs to feel seen, heard, and understood by those around them. Unfortunately, many people disregard seniors’ opinions and don’t truly listen to what they’re saying when they speak. One of the best things you can do for your aging loved one is to actively listen to them.
When they talk, your only job is to hear and understand what they say. You don’t need to be thinking of a response or a follow-up question as they’re speaking. Instead, dedicate your full attention to them. When the individual knows that you’re listening intently, they’ll feel a stronger sense of connection to you, and they’ll feel more fulfilled by the conversation.
2. Prioritize Safety and Security
Safety is one of the most basic but important needs for seniors. If your loved one doesn’t feel safe and secure, they probably won’t have the emotional energy to fulfill their other needs.
You can help to ensure your loved one’s safety by identifying and removing physical risks in their environment. There are a number of home modifications you can install to allow them to navigate their home more safely. Security systems, new locks, and emergency call buttons can all help seniors feel at peace in their homes, too.
3. Respect Their Wishes
Unless your aging loved one is in a severe state of cognitive decline, they have the ability and the right to advocate for themselves. People sometimes infantilize older adults, treating them as if they’re young children who cannot make their own decisions. However, seniors can and should be in control of their own lives. You can show your loved one that they’re valued and respected by actively listening to their wants and needs and doing your best to meet them.
4. Find Meaningful Activities
Recreation is a major component of mental health and emotional wellness in seniors. Hobbies provide an opportunity for self-expression and a sense of pride and fulfillment in one’s work. Some seniors may struggle to find meaningful activities on their own, though. You can help your senior loved one by suggesting activities that you can do together. Not only does this give them a chance to participate in fun hobbies, but it can also be a social outlet.
In many cases, lack of socialization drives the emotional changes in seniors as they age. When you get older, you may not find as many opportunities to connect with others throughout your day-to-day life. Retirement, mobility limitations, and the loss of friends or a spouse can all contribute to loneliness and isolation in older adults.
Social interaction is absolutely necessary for people of all ages to feel well. Even introverted seniors need to connect with others from time to time, so you should make sure that your loved one has regular opportunities to spend time with others.
6. Assist With Self-care
Hygiene, grooming, and other self-care tasks can become more difficult with age. While some seniors have no problem keeping up with their self-care, others may see their chronic pain or mobility issues get in the way. This can be a serious contributor to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health struggles. If your loved one has expressed that personal care is becoming more difficult, you could offer support by assisting them when needed.
7. Watch for Signs of Depression
Unmet emotional needs could lead to depression and other mental and emotional health problems. If your loved one is struggling with a clinical psychological disorder, professional support may be needed to get them back on their feet. The following are some of the most common signs of depression in older adults:
- Low mood and low self-esteem
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Sleeping more than usual
- Lack of interest in preferred hobbies
- Speaking frequently about death, dying, or suicide
Caregivers and loved ones are instrumental in an aging adult’s mental and emotional health. Even small actions on your part can help your senior loved one feel valued, appreciated, and understood.
It’s also important to know when to reach out for additional support. If you’re concerned that you or your aging loved one is struggling with their mental well-being, Blue Moon Senior Counseling is here to help. Our licensed therapists specialize in working with older adults and addressing their unique needs. You can contact us today to learn more about senior counseling.