Mindset is key to senior mental health. A brevity mindset sees life as closed, with limited possibilities. It erodes happiness and motivation. Longevity mindset, on the other hand, rejects the idea that seniors are a burden with nothing to contribute. It looks ahead, searching for new ways to grow and give back.
Life is not static. It is dynamic. In order to stay fit, people need to wake up every day thinking about how they are going to move forward with their children, their family, their friends, their community, and their career. When they stop evolving, they start moving backwards. Instead of growing, they decline.
The mindset we carry with us has an enormous effect on our well-being. Bad beliefs and thought patterns can lead to depression, disability, and even a shorter lifespan. Senior mental health is especially challenging because the things that drove them forward earlier in life, such as their job, have fallen away.
Mental health is a process, not an achievement. Like any other part of the body, we have to work at it each day to stay fit. This might sound difficult, but it is easy with the right frame of mind.
Every morning, when Tarek El Nabli looks at himself in the mirror, he is not afraid to say, “I am God’s gift to Earth.” It is not ego, but the simple fact that he does good for people. For decades, psychologists have talked about positive mental attitudes. But Tarek’s mindset goes beyond this. It comes from being personally fulfilled for having lent a hand to someone. Every day, he is inspired to touch at least one person and tell them how valuable they are. When you make someone feel good about themselves, that energy comes right back to you.
Senior mental health hinges on this outlook. Everyone is blessed with talent and opportunity. We are put on Earth to seek, to work, to provide, to help, and encourage other people. When seniors are involved in what they are doing, when they have a mission, only then will they wake up eager, inspired, and encouraged.
Two things happen as people get older. First, seniors tend to experience greater loneliness because they are not involved in their community. They have a lot of time on their hands and without a hobby or work, something they are passionate about, time becomes a killer. Every day is just another day. There is a saying: if you want something done, give it to someone who is busy. When people have nothing to fill their time, their mental health suffers. But when they have responsibilities, when they are active and occupied, they see better results.
Of course, this applies to all individuals, not just seniors. However, it affects seniors more because physically, they are not able to do as much as they were. On account of this, it is not unusual to find them discouraged and sitting home all day. Nothing could be worse for their mental health. Family and friends should reach out and help them find new ways to stay busy, whether it is at church, their local hospital, or meals on wheels. We cannot force them to do anything, but we should encourage them to do everything.
Second, as seniors age, they do not get as much human contact. In the past, they probably received hugs, kisses, and high fives every day, but for whatever reason, over the years, they usually receive fewer.
Touch is very powerful. It builds trust, connection, and happiness. Regular touch even makes people more cooperative and engaged. If you know a senior who is sinking into despair, the best thing you can do is bring a child to visit them. Their hugs and kisses are the best medicine in the world.
Parentis Health works with seniors across Southern California, finding new ways for them to stay active. Our home caregivers help them keep up with their favorite hobbies and at Verona Court, we are always busy creating new games for them to enjoy.
But to help seniors participate in the community, the Parentis Foundation decided to partner with the AARP’s Experience Corps Program. This is an education initiative that pairs senior volunteers with struggling students in order to help kids learn to read. A child who fails basic literacy is unlikely to graduate from high school and will probably go on to experience loneliness, hunger, and homelessness later in life.
The response the program has received is nothing short of ecstatic. When the children meet their tutors, they do not walk over to them; they run. Seeing the difference they have made has given our volunteers a new purpose. Because of their help, their students cannot wait to raise their hands and speak up in class. They are happy, inspired, and empowered and our seniors feel like productive members of society again.
Staying active requires many things: eating right, sleeping well, and regular exercise. But it also requires motivation. In order to promote senior mental health, our loved ones need to know they are still an important part of the world. This is the foundation of the longevity mindset and a long, healthy life.
Tarek El Nabli is the founder and CEO of Parentis Health. Through his work, he has expanded access to quality senior care to thousands of older adults in Southern California. His hybrid approach to health focuses on improving patient outcomes through education, wellness, and continuity of care.