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By Michelle Lupoli, Chief of Clinical Services, PACE-RI

Life gets busy and it’s easy for tasks, regardless of how important they may be, to get pushed to the corner, out of our minds.

Organization and planning can help to ensure that important tasks aren’t neglected, especially when it comes to your family’s health.   When putting together the calendar, don’t forget to schedule activities for your elderly relatives.  Their mental and physical well-being may be relying on it.

How can you know what activity is best?  Think of the four pillars of wellness and start there.

Spiritual

Is your loved one spiritual or religious?  Bring them to a gathering of like-minded individuals.  Whether it is a Bible class or a prayer service at your mosque, being around people who share the same beliefs can promote mental stimulation through conversation and inner peace.  The discipline and practice of religion can be calming and centering too.  Participating in person provides motivation to get dressed, practice good hygiene and get moving.

But if your loved one has never participated in formal religion or is no longer interested, there are other ways to be social and practice spirituality.  It might be a sunrise gathering to meditate at the beach or a silent walk through a labyrinth.  To reap the benefits, your loved one should be participating in person and with like-minded individuals to maximize the benefits.

Physical

There’s nothing better to get the blood flowing than exercise and participating with someone else provides inspiration and accountability.  Exercise can be as informal as a walk together around the block or as formal as a class with an instructor at your PACE Adult Day Center.  The important aspect is to try and incorporate both strength training and aerobic activity into your loved one’s weekly routine.  Putting the appointment on the calendar and including a friend will ensure that the exercise session actually happens and that you stick with your routine while making it fun.  

Exercise doesn’t have to be costly or painful; it just needs to happen.  Weights can be vegetable cans or resistance bands.  Your loved one needs to get up out of their chair, put on a comfortable pair of sneakers, grab a friend, and move.  They can walk through the mall, walk to the grocery store, or walk to a local café to have a cup of coffee with friends.  

Senior centers, local YMCAs, and PACE Adult Day Centers offer group classes to target the specific needs of elders.  Chair yoga, tai chi, and strength training classes all provide valuable ways to get balance, strength, and endurance.

Mental

Everyone has good days and bad days, but sometimes being alone and facing the challenges of aging can be just too much to handle alone.  If being with others doesn’t lift the veil of sadness for your loved one, if they don’t want to leave their bedroom or are refusing opportunities to socialize, it may be time to seek mental health counseling.  

Mental health challenges affect so many people.  Maybe your loved one has recently lost a spouse, or they have become dependent on alcohol or narcotics.  Getting help from a licensed therapist can be the first step to getting them out and active once again.  

PACE-RI participants can talk to our master’s-level social workers, but seniors who don’t have PACE can use local resources for help finding a licensed therapist.  Your doctor can make a referral for individual therapy.  Group therapy sessions focused on specific topics are also available. Widows and widowers have support groups. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous both also offer topic-specific assistance.  These sessions can usually be found with assistance from the local library or community center.

Emotional

Medical researchers have well documented that human interaction is necessary for our physical and emotional health.  We all witnessed or experienced the negative effects of isolation during COVID so having loved ones keep in touch with friends can be the key to a good and healthy life.  

Here are some easy ways to encourage socialization for good emotional health:

  • Pick a time, date, and location, and schedule a regular monthly gathering with your loved one’s old friends. Whether it is getting a sandwich at Gregg’s, playing a game of bridge, or hosting a book club, putting an activity on the calendar will make sure that the gathering actually happens.
  • Encourage your loved one to pursue a hobby.  Do an internet search for people with common interests like photography, knitting, or geology.  Look for meetups they can attend for an opportunity to socialize.
  • Look for new hobbies that interest them.  Encourage your loved one to join a senior center, go to the YMCA or go to a PACE Adult Day Center to learn how to paint, play BINGO or learn yoga if they have an interest.  
  • Take advantage of free or low-cost programming.  Look at the calendar at your local senior center, library, the Learning Connection, and colleges and universities.  Find topics that might interest them and maybe even accompany your loved one to the lecture, seminar, or class.  It’s a great way to bond with someone you care about.  

Keeping connected to others can help the elder in your care remain spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.  Take the time to help them explore opportunities that mean something to them and incorporate the activities into your family’s routine.  Their body, mind, and soul will appreciate the benefits that activities and socialization will offer.