As a father, husband and son, I am looking forward to the holidays. My mom joined us in Boston for Thanksgiving, and we’re spending Christmas in Los Angeles with my wife’s parents. After two years of communicating virtually, we are eager to see our extended family face-to-face.
As a physician, I know this time together will have a positive impact on our older relatives’ physical and mental well-being. Doing things that make you happy, like spending time with loved ones, is an underrated health hack. Because of my clinical background, most people expect me to focus on eating healthy, exercising daily, not smoking and watching your numbers. And while that is all very important, there are many other ways that older adults can improve their well-being.
1. Get comfortable with technology
Though I look forward to seeing family in-person, I am grateful for the technology that has kept us in touch when we’ve been physically apart. Not too long ago, my mom learned to use FaceTime so that my daughters can share their artwork and pictures with her. I recommend that older adults try their hand at adopting new technology. Not only is it beneficial to learn a new skill, but it can also open new health possibilities. In fact, given the significant rise in telehealth use, some Medicare Advantage plans will cover telehealth visits for primary care, urgent care and specialty care, including mental health services. For older adults, using the tools available in the right ways can open a world of information, help them engage with family and friends and keep them connected.
2. Find your purpose
Everyone wants to feel a sense of purpose – this is especially true for older adults who may no longer be working. This feeling is also critical to our overall health. Findings across ten studies revealed those with a higher sense of purpose were at lower risk of developing conditions that are all too common in the older population, such as coronary artery disease, strokes and heart attacks. Those looking for a sense of purpose may find it in a part-time job, volunteer opportunity or even connecting with those around them – for example cooking a meal for a neighbor or watching their grandchild for a few hours.
3. Nurture existing and new relationships
Notice how so far, all of my tips tie back to connecting with others? Relationships are critically important to physical and mental well-being. In fact, a six-year study of participants over the age of 65 found that those with a higher level of social interaction were less likely to develop dementia. For those seeking companionship, Papa Pals is a program that pairs older adults with youthful companions to provide services such as transportation, help with light household chores or technology lessons. It’s important that older adults actively seek opportunities to foster relationships and participate in their community.
4. Boost your brain health
Keeping your brain active goes beyond just daily crossword puzzles and regular reading. At least one in four older adults suffer from some mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety or dementia, and two-thirds with mental health issues do not receive the treatment they require. Fortunately, there are a number of enjoyable activities associated with improved mental and neurological well-being. For example, a daily walk is a fun way to enjoy nature and form relationships with neighbors and other members of the community.
5. Get some rest
Another way to boost brain health is by getting a good night’s sleep. As we age, it’s common to experience changes to our sleep patterns, such as feeling tired earlier, waking up earlier or experiencing less deep sleep. However, disturbed sleep, waking up tired every day and other symptoms of insomnia are not a normal part of aging and can be detrimental to overall health. Sleep disorders are associated with contributing to the development and progression of conditions like age-related cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. Creating an environment conducive to sleep and establishing a nighttime routine can help older adults reap the benefits of restful sleep. Hanging room darkening curtains, wearing a sleep mask and turning off the TV at the same time each night are some key ways to help.
6. Practice gratitude
Though growing older has its challenges, our golden years can be the time life truly flourishes. In fact, a survey of 300,000 adults found that life satisfaction, happiness and the feeling that life is worthwhile are at their peak among people ages 65 to 79. Work stress and childcare duties are not holding older adults back from pursuing their hobbies like they may have when they were younger. Now is the time to take that vacation, learn that new skill and have a laugh with loved ones. After all, appreciating life’s happy moments brings health benefits of its own.
Take a Moment to Truly Enjoy Life — Doctor’s Orders
The light radiating from my mom and in-laws' facial expressions will rival the holiday lights this season. I feel good knowing they enjoy spending time with us, and even better that moments like these contribute to their overall health and longevity. Life is filled with pleasant experiences, engaging activities and rewarding relationships. For older adults, they can be just what the doctor ordered.