Avoiding Substance Abuse and Improving Mental Health in Seniors
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Guest Author: Pat McGraw
Substance abuse in seniors is a much more common problem than one might think. It can go untreated if loved ones don’t take the warning signs seriously and take action. Substance abuse in seniors is commonly the result of poor mental well-being. If your aging loved one is not caring for their mental health, they could easily become at risk for addiction. If you’re concerned about an aging loved one’s mental health, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the risk of substance abuse.
Know the Signs
The signs of addiction in seniors can sometimes be brushed off by family members. For example, if your grandparent loses a spouse or a close friend, relatives may turn a blind eye to an increase in drinking. Loved ones may think that drowning their sorrows is an appropriate and temporary response to cope with a loss, or they may not be aware that addiction is a potential concern among older adults.
However, it is important that you know and acknowledge the signs of substance abuse and addiction in your elderly loved ones in order to get them the help they need. Treatment can make a world of difference, helping your loved one find effective coping strategies to work through the loss while maintaining sound mental health.
Promote Social Interaction
Social isolation is a leading cause of mental health concerns in seniors. After retirement, older adults don’t have a job to go to that puts them in contact with other people. Perhaps their spouse passes away, and their life-long friends begin to pass on as well. Gradually, due to these circumstances and health conditions that impact mobility, some older adults become increasingly isolated.
Social isolation can contribute to depression, which in turn increases an individual’s risk of turning to substances as a coping mechanism. Ultimately, using substances as a means of self-medicating may lead to substance abuse and addiction in some older adults.
As social creatures, it is critical that your loved one find new ways to meet others. A few good examples are crafting groups, book clubs, exercise groups, returning to school, or volunteering. Anything that gets your loved one out of the house and talking to new people is beneficial, not just for their emotional well-being but also for their physical health.
Encourage Mental and Physical Exercise
Physical exercise is just as important for mental health as cognitively challenging activities. Physical exercise helps stave off depression and improves quality of life, promoting strength, flexibility, and balance that can preserve seniors’ mobility as they age.
Seniors seeking fun and engaging ways to be more physically active might consider yoga, tai chi, swimming, or even something as simple as taking a daily walk. Senior centers in many communities offer senior exercise groups focused on these and other activities that promote physical activity among older adults. Participating in a group fitness program helps seniors stay both physically active and socially engaged.
There are dozens of ways to exercise the brain as well. Activities that require cognitive engagement include puzzles, math exercises, attending college courses, reading, and more. Keeping the brain engaged throughout aging helps to maintain existing neural pathways, improve memory, and reduce cognitive decline, which in turn lowers an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
It’s never too late to start learning something new, so encourage your aging loved ones to pursue interests they didn’t have time for during their working years. By staying cognitively, physically, and socially engaged, seniors are less likely to become isolated and develop depression, thereby lessening the risk of substance abuse and addiction.
Maintaining mental health in seniors is the best way to prevent addiction and help them enjoy retirement. If your loved one does experience substance abuse, remember that many seniors successfully recover with proper treatment and go on to live an active, healthy lifestyle. Programs to treat addiction in seniors can be highly effective and will work to get your loved one back on the right track. What matters is that you care about your loved one and want to help them enjoy a vibrant, active lifestyle throughout their golden years.
About the Author:
Pat McGraw is a firm believer in maintaining a healthy, clean lifestyle. Her mission is to make sure awareness and resources are made available to young people to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse.