Older adults may find that a decline in their mental health stops them from being able to enjoy their so-called "Golden Years." Fortunately there's research on how the elderly can improve their mental health and appreciate their best years yet.
Cope with Anger
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), "anger is more harmful to the health of older adults than sadness." Research shows that the "effects of anger experienced daily was related to higher inflammation levels and chronic illness for study participants 80 years old and above, but not for younger seniors, while sadness wasn’t relate to either inflammation or chronic illness."
Susan Kane's article on the mental health of older adults states that, "while younger seniors may utilize anger to "help them overcome challenges in life and newly-developing age-related losses so that they can be healthier," seniors over 80 experience “irreversible losses and some of life’s pleasures fall out of reach." This is when anger becomes problematic for them.
The APA suggests education and therapy to help seniors regulate their emotions and to give them better coping mechanisms instead of resorting to anger.
"Aging gracefully is more than a feel-good concept," states Kane. Researchers from the University of Alberta have discovered several factors that "help individuals over the age of 55 maintain healthy memory and prevent memory decline."
In the study, adults with healthy memories were more likely to be educated, female, and engage in more social activities, and novel cognitive activities. Healthy memory in adults aged 55 to 75 was associated with lower heart rate, higher body mass index, more self-maintenance activities, and living companions. And adults over the age of 75 had fewer depressive symptoms and a quicker step.
On the other hand, older adults with declining memories seemed to engage in fewer new cognitive activities. Higher heart rates and less self-maintenance activities engagement were found in younger adults, aged 55 to 75, while those adults over the age of 75 walked slower and participated in fewer social activities.
Researchers concluded that the mental health of seniors is tied to healthy aging and "preventing or delaying impairment, accelerated decline and potentially even dementia."
Exercise benefits everyone—including the elderly, who Kane says "are often written off as a population that just has to accept age-related infirmities and limitations and nothing can be done to change it."
Research from the University of Maryland found that "acute exercise in older adults produces a positive impact on those regions of the brain that are associated with memory and recall."
Researchers liken the effect to a muscle that adapts to repeated use, saying that single exercise sessions “may flex cognitive neural networks in ways that promote adaptations over time,” and may lead to increased network integrity and function and “allow more efficient access to memories.”
With numerous studies on their side, the elderly can be assured that their later years will be "Golden Years" as long as they nurture their mental health.