For seniors, maintaining good personal appearance often goes hand in hand with maintaining a sense of purpose in life. When we have places to go, things to do and people to see, we naturally take greater interest in how we look.
A decline in grooming often indicates that a senior needs assistance due to a loss of physical dexterity or onset of conditions like Alzheimer’s that inhibit the ability to perform the activities of daily living. But it also can go much deeper, signaling depression and a loss of direction or interest in life.
Such a change in attitude can follow significant life changes that commonly accompany aging—retirement, illness, loss of physical and mental capabilities, children and grandchildren moving away, having to move, and death of a spouse.
These kinds of changes can leave a senior feeling ungrounded, without the sense of purpose he or she derived, for instance, from going to work every day.
Family and professional caregivers can help ease these transitions by being sensitive to seniors’ feelings, offering a listening ear and opening alternatives to help seniors stay connected and active – physically, socially, and mentally.
The National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (www.nia.nih.gov) and the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation (www.gmhfonline.org) provide a wide variety of tips for helping seniors avoid depression and maintain a purposeful life. These include:
- Help maintain friendships and contact with family to ease loneliness that comes with the loss of a spouse. Help the senior get out of the house to visit people, or arrange for friends and family to visit. Helping the senior stay connected through letters or e-mail is another option.
- Help the senior develop hobbies and new skills or support and encourage the senior to continue involvement in lifelong interests.
- Encourage regular exercise, which helps elevate mood and prevent depression. Go on walks with the senior or help with other activities he or she enjoys like dancing, gardening or swimming.
- Help seniors stay socially connected. This can include taking seniors to church, senior center and community activities or helping find volunteer opportunities. (The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation states that studies show that seniors who remain engaged with family and community take longer to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease than those who are socially isolated.)
- Help the senior maintain a healthy diet.
Comfort Keepers®’ unique approach to in-home senior care, Interactive CaregivingTM, uses these same principles, to help seniors stay engaged in life, physically, mentally and emotionally, and to help make a positive difference in how they feel about themselves and even how they look.