When you think of your elderly parents or grandparents, you want to picture them happy, fulfilled, and enjoying life. As we age, however, many factors in our lives can change. We may have physical or health-related challenges, as well as cognitive or social declines that could impact our later years.
So, what are some ways to improve the quality of life for the elderly? A senior’s well being can be increased through feeling useful. Equally as crucial is ensuring they do not feel isolated, they keep moving, and that they have mental stimulation. Daily activities, social visits, and the setting and achieving of goals all contribute to an improved quality of life.
Finding goals and activities that are specific to their interests and their backgrounds is extremely helpful. While the elderly may not be able to lead the same lives they had when they were younger, there can still be pieces of that younger-self incorporated into their daily routines now.
What Factors Determine Quality Of Life?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “quality of life” as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards, and concerns.”
As such, many different factors determine the quality of life for each person. Some of the concepts essential to figuring out someone’s positive and negative life aspects can include:
- Overall health and wellness
- The person’s belief system (religion, faith, ideals, culturally, etc…)
- Their psychological state of mind
- Levels of activity – both physical and mental
- Social relationships, as well as their relationship with themselves and their environment
Further, a study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health by Khaje-Bishak, et al, noted that “poor economic, cultural, educational and health care conditions and also inadequate social interactions can result in poor quality of life in elderly people.”
Essentially what this all boils down to is that every person’s quality of life is determined based on their situation.
These are guidelines that are helpful for us to follow to better understand the elements we need to consider. Then they need to be applied to the specific person in order to know exactly what “quality of life” will mean to them.
How Is Age Related To Quality Of Life?
Different studies have shown when the quality of life tends to peak and when it begins to decline.
One such study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggests that our happiness and life satisfaction peaks around age 68. Other studies show similar results. Of course, these studies are based on hundreds or thousands of adults, and there will always be outliers and people who do not fit that mold.
Instead, age-related quality of life is more of a guideline to show what national and international averages look like from a purely statistical and data-driven point of view.
Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough. – Groucho Marx (source: Wise Old Sayings)
When an older adult can find that fulfilled groove or a way to improve their quality of life, it can be seen as a new chapter. This is a positive and healthy way to view the next “X amount” of years.
When you look at it in this way, satisfaction with life becomes less about the science behind the age and more about how the person approaches their advancing age and the time they have left.
Giving Elderly A Purpose – How To Make The Elderly Feel Useful
No matter our age, we all need a sense of purpose. It moves our days forward, provides us aspirations to strive for, and it just feels good.
We like knowing we’re needed or can help out in some way. Being useful is not just helpful to those around you when you lend a hand; it is also an internal awareness that we crave.
It follows that when people retire, finding an activity in which we can feel useful is typically the first step toward finding a new purpose in life. And, as time goes on it can get more challenging to find that purpose.
However, this phase of life can also be an exciting time for the elderly because they have the chance to spark new passions, learn new skills, and find ways to feel useful through things like volunteering.
When a senior finds that sense of purpose, it improves their overall health and well-being. People who find no meaning in life or feel useless have a much harder time being active and working to maintain good health.
So how can the elderly feel useful and find further purpose?
- Start with small goals: Each day, look for little tasks or goals that are meaningful to you. Instead of broad strokes, think smaller – even little things can make an impact. When you can check something off a list, that “win” helps keep you motivated.
- Find activities that positively affect others: Maybe this means planting some flowers where fellow neighbors or members of the community can see them and smile. Maybe it’s helping to take care of a friend or family member’s pet while they are at work. Anything that offers a helping hand or helps improve someone else’s day will, in turn, improve your day as well. Along those lines, volunteering is a great way to stay active and feel a sense of purpose and passion.
As you can imagine, there will not be a one-size-fits-all answer to how to give the elderly a purpose. Seniors need to explore what is most meaningful to them and what they would like to accomplish in their golden years. Doing this will help them find true purpose rather than a cookie-cutter solution that may not feel as fulfilling to them as it does to others.
Preventing Social Isolation In The Elderly
Social isolation is a huge cause of the decline in a senior’s quality of life. Having “alone time” is one thing. Feeling disconnected and isolated is a whole different beast.
Here are some great tips for preventing that pitfall of elderly social isolation:
- Transportation: Figure out a system for elderly friends and family to help them with their transportation needs. Offering to go to the store for them is great, but if they are physically capable, helping them get out and into a social atmosphere is even better.
- Family meals: Encourage family meals and outings with the senior. Mealtime is ideal for getting everyone together. And for the elderly who may not have as much social interaction every day, a simple dinner with family can brighten their entire week.
- Find specific social activities: It’s one thing to get dragged to a group activity at their senior home simply because there is nothing else to do. It’s another to go because the person loves arts and crafts and wants to meet other people who do, as well. Finding those specific activities that speak to the older adult will make it more encouraging to attend and be social.
How To Keep Seniors Mentally Active
It’s a dangerous thing when our minds become inactive. Boredom and lack of stimulation can easily lead to depression. Being mentally active and being challenged daily will help an elderly person stay sharp and in a better state of mind.
Here are some great ideas for seniors who need a boost in mental stimulation:
- Play board games or work on puzzles, such as Sudoku and crosswords
- Write down the book that’s been rolling around in your head for years, or journal about your life, current events, or wisdom you’d like your heirs to know
- Read the books you have always wanted to read, but never got around to
- Play an instrument (or learn a new one!)
- Exercise and stay strong with core exercises for seniors, yoga, tai chi, dance, or whatever you love. The University of Arizona has produced studies showing how exercise is not only crucial to our physical health, but also our mental well-being
- Take classes – many colleges and universities now offer free courses to seniors (or finish that college degree you’ve always wanted to obtain!)
For more ideas for staying mentally active, check out our article on keeping elderly minds sharp.
Quality Of Life In Seniors
The phrase, “quality of life in seniors,” will mean different things to each elderly person. This is because we all have different perspectives, depending on our culture, overall health, social relationships, and beliefs. The main thing to remember is that there are so many ways to help improve that quality of life.
Finding purpose by being of service to others, being socially engaged, and staying active both physically and mentally will help seniors find and maintain a fulfilling life for years to come.