Written by Lisa Enns – Lindenwood Spiritual Care.

I’ve been working closely with seniors for the past almost-20 years – for 15 years as a congregational pastor, and now for the past two years as a Spiritual Care provider here at Lindenwood Retirement Living. I have come to see many folks in their later years of life struggle with mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety. Of course, some may have lived a whole lifetime with mental health issues, but I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about people who, for the most part, have developed these struggles in their winter season of life. And as I sit with and accompany people in that walk, I am aware of factors that contribute to their vulnerable mental health state. I thought it may be helpful for family members and caregivers, as well as others, if I shared my list of those factors that contribute to decreased mental health, as well as what builds up positive mental health and resilience.

Factors contributing to decreased mental health in seniors:

  • Seeing oneself deteriorate – Examples: vision, hearing, fractures and risk of fractures, memory loss, slowed thinking, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, simply getting a cold and it taking weeks and weeks to recover fully, frailty due to loss of muscle mass and bone density
  • Not being able to do the things you used to – Examples: can’t go for walks, can’t knit/bake/go out anymore and participate in what they once loved, can’t drive car, can’t attend things because of hearing issues or other physical issues
  • Feeling invisible in a youth-oriented society – affects confidence and self-esteem, which of course leads to loneliness and isolation, which often leads to depression and anxiety
  • Not being needed as in the past
  • Having no real role to play in society
  • Loss of status – Examples: income level, identity in the work world
  • Not being able to pull your weight – I heard one resident say, “I used to be a DOER! Now I can’t do anything. I feel guilty about that.”
  • Having to depend on others – it is very hard to relinquish independence and come to rely on others to do very personal and private daily functions, to even need help to get down to dinner.
  • Family worries – difficult family dynamics can cause sleepless nights and ongoing anxiety and even depression for older seniors. Especially coupled with the feeling of helplessness to do anything and the lack of feeling needed.
  • Living with regrets and unresolved conflict – this can weigh heavily on one’s heart and lead to feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.
  • Loss of significant people – The older years are typified by ongoing grief when family members and spouses pass away. This is very hard on one’s emotions and the sense of loss and aloneness can be overwhelming.
  • Loss of home (relocation) – any moves from one home to another, let alone across greater geographical distances, can result in mental health struggles.

Factors that contribute to increased mental health and resilience in seniors:

  • Being given information about their situation
  • Being given opportunity for choice, having a say in decision-making
  • Practical help that supports living independently
  • Knowing that assistance can be acquired when needed
  • Sense of belonging / community / social interaction / involvement
  • Independence and control over one’s life
  • A sense of dignity and purpose
  • Improved physical health
  • Attention to spirituality
  • Lifelong skills at coping with losses
  • Life experience of the individual
  • Quality of the home environment
  • Sense of security and personal safety
  • Access to transportation
  • Timely and easy access to needed services

The staff here at Lindenwood Retirement Living strive to pay attention to all of these things as we provide care for our residents. Working together as a team (resident, family, and staff), our goal is to have residents who experience joy, purpose and meaning in their daily life.