December 31, 2022

To Add Life To Years: Meeting the Emotional Needs of Your Elderly Loved Ones

Written by: Marina Peric, M.D.

How do you imagine overall life satisfaction changes over years of life? You probably expect people to be most satisfied with life in their young and middle years, when they are healthy, with a stable career and income, and a rich family and social life.  But somewhat paradoxically, overall life satisfaction tends to follow an unusual trajectory across the lifespan: it steadily declines and reaches the lowest point in the middle years, after which it improves until the late 70s.


The explanation of this is rather interesting. While health and financial status are the most important moderators of overall life satisfaction in the middle years, an aging person experiences deteriorating health, frailty, retirement with a subsequent change in everyday habits, and less socialization, all of which have a negative impact on overall life satisfaction. However, with life approaching its end, the priorities change, and other components of everyday life compensate for the ones that are being lost. Elderly people tend to focus on the present, instead of future goals, and leisure activities and social interactions tend to become an important component of their life satisfaction and psychological well-being.


On the other hand, one of the most common psychiatric issues in the elderly population is depression, which is, among other, strongly related to social isolation and loneliness - the population that tends to worship social interactions and quality time spending the most is at the same time the one that suffers from lack of social interactions the most. Elderly people who are widowed, living alone, living in urban areas, functionally impaired, or seriously sick, are the most vulnerable in this context.


This problem is particularly pronounced in the youth-centered Western world, where society rejected the filial obligation idea a long time ago. Leading a busy life with a myriad of problems and obligations, we often tend to forget and neglect our seniors. Here is a list of some of the basic needs of your elderly loved ones that you can carry out to make a change today.



Listen to them

Seniors, just like everyone else, have a psychological need to express their feelings and thoughts, to be understood and respected. But even when family members are caregivers, they often do things automatically, without actually paying attention to their elders’ thoughts and needs. Elders, on the other hand, tend to avoid seeking interactions with their loved ones to not feel like a burden to them.

Talk to your elders, and actively listen to them. Let them feel you appreciate their opinion and that they are needed, ask them to help you make a decision, or keep you company at an event or while doing choirs. A simple daily call on the phone to ask how they spent their day can already make a big difference.



Help them find a hobby

Engaging in meaningful activity can be an effective way to combat boredom, which plagues many elderly people once they retire. Picking up a hobby helps them to create a new purpose in life, to spend their time to spend time in a fun and useful way, to be creative, and in general, to enjoy all those leisure activities that they might not have had time for while working from 9 to 5. Help your elders embrace retirement, not as a stage where they have nothing to do, but as a stage when they can do anything they want!

Suggest activities they can engage in, such as reading books, taking a language course or dance classes, or joining a club. Encourage them to learn a new skill. Put special emphasis on activities that keep the brain healthy and slow down cognitive decline, such as chess, word games, or brain-stimulating apps.



Spend quality time together

People of all ages need social interactions to feel good. With aging and retirement, social circle tends to shrink – seniors often lose connections with their friends, their children are at the peak of their own lives and forget about their parents, and things become particularly difficult once their significant other passes. All this leads to isolation, loneliness, and, eventually, depression in older adults.

Maintain a connection with your elderly family members by spending time together. Visit regularly, and encourage them to come to visit if they are mobile. Teach them how to use technology and connect via the internet if they live too far away. Help them reconnect with their old friends, or help them find new friends by joining clubs or visiting a local community center.

Feeling connected and needed is beneficial for your elders’ psychological well-being, and prevents them from feeling lonely, isolated, and emotionally void.



Make them feel safe

Elderly people commonly experience different chronic health issues, which make their mobility and daily functioning limited. Elders, especially those living alone, are usually very aware of their vulnerability and frailty, feel fearful and uneasy about potentialburglary, falls at home, or having a medical urgency when no one is there to help.

Make sure your loved ones feel safe at home. Modify their home with better locks, security systems and cameras, spy locks, and chains. Mitigate fall hazards in their environment: remove carpets, for example, or install ramps and grab bars and handles. Provide them with a medical alert system they can use in case of emergency if you’re not with them. If they are not capable of being on their own, and you can’t be with them either, discuss hiring a professional caregiver to help.



Help them with self-care

Chronic diseases and cognitive decline sometimes get in the way of self-care in elderly people, and it becomes difficult for them to maintain hygiene and groom. This can lead to a feeling of helplessness, low self-esteem, and depression. If you see your seniors struggling with self-care, offer them support and assistance. It will help them maintain dignity and a positive picture of themselves.



Leave some space

Even if you think you know or can do something better than your senior, unless they express the need for help, do not get in the way. If they have the physical and mental capability, they should be left to make their own decisions and do as many choirs and activities without assistance. Even though you have the best intentions, try not to treat them like children – it will make them feel incompetent and useless. Make sure they know they can count on you whenever they need help, but find a way to also respect their privacy and leave some space of their own. Feeling in control of their own life will boost their self-esteem and allow them to feel worthy and independent.




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Article written by Marina Peric, M.D.
Marina is a medical doctor from Belgrade, Serbia. She graduated with high honors in 2020 and is aspiring to become a pathologist. During her studies, she took part in several scientific researches, mostly in the pharmacology niche. She was also an assisting teacher at the Department of Histology and Embryology for 5 years (2015-2020). Marina has years of experience as a writer on health-related topics. Apart from English, she fluently speaks several languages, including Spanish, Russian, and Czech.

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