Life has the awesome chance of getting better and better with age. Just ask Christa. She spent most of her life intending to write a novel, and it wasn’t until she was 66 years old that she finally spent the time to complete it.
“I don’t know why I waited so long,” she explained. “But on the other hand, I’m glad I waited as long as I did because I was finally ready, with all of my life experience behind me and only opportunities ahead.”
If you’re a caregiver for an aging adult, you can encourage them in those interests and goals they still carry with them—or encourage them to imagine new goals. Help them to feel a sense of independent purpose and to take charge of their course through later life. You can also help them to put these ambitions into perspective and come up with strategies for real action in the right direction. Goal setting for seniors can be a grounding activity that motivates individuals to lead the lives they really want.
What Motivates Our Elderly Loved Ones?
There is no right or wrong goal for an older adult to strive for. Whatever inspires and motivates them is a great direction, and most goals can be adapted to suit the individual’s needs and limitations. You can help them to break a challenging goal up into manageable parts. Ideally, the aging adult in your life selects a goal that they can get really excited about and put plenty of fresh energy behind.
Some great goals for seniors might fall under the following categories:
- Health and fitness. Example: Aim to walk for 30 minutes, three times a week.
- Family and community. Example: Video chat with the grandchildren every Sunday.
- Personal purpose. Example: Sign up to volunteer for a local organization, such as the library, an animal shelter, or soup kitchen.
- Independence. Example: Make calls to arrange for a housekeeper, automatic prescription and grocery deliveries, and a social day program schedule to make independent living more manageable and enjoyable.
- Creativity. Examples: Take an art class at the local senior center or get involved with gardening.
- Fun. Example: Try out a new restaurant every month based on recommendations from the community.
How Can You Help Seniors Set Goals and Realistic Objectives?
After retirement and into our later years, it’s actually a really great time to set personal goals because we’re no longer bound by responsibilities like work and raising children as we once were. But we also want to make the most of the time and energy we invest. Caregivers can help aging adults to strategize and develop plans and expectations in the direction of their goals.
- Purpose: Focus on one goal at a time and start by clarifying the purpose. Why is this objective exciting? How is it going to improve or enrich my life? A goal set to walk three times a week can help to maintain a healthy weight, generate energy, and keep the heart and other body systems strong. It can help to keep this greater purpose of healthy living in mind.
- Expectations: While it’s a positive idea for seniors to set goals that are challenging and that require them to reach beyond their comfort zones, it’s also important for these goals to realistically match their abilities. If a goal becomes too exaggerated—an aging adult aspires to walk five miles a day, five days a week, the way they used to—they may get burnt out and discouraged. It makes more sense to start smaller and work their way up to a more ambitious expectation.
- Smaller steps: Oftentimes, a goal can be broken down into smaller, more manageable goals. This is a really important tactic for actually moving forward and accomplishing the larger objective. In fact, with each smaller piece that an aging adult accomplishes, they get to feel a surge of accomplishment, pride, and motivation to continue. In the case of walking for health, a senior might plan to walk just 30 minutes, twice a week, for a month. Then, they could increase the walking time and or the number of days per week in subsequent months.
- Motivation: How does your aging loved one find and generate motivation? They may need the encouragement of friends and family keeping them company in pursuit of their goals. They could have a walking buddy. Maybe they feel connected to their progress and inspired to continue when they keep a journal about it or otherwise keep a record of how far they’ve come—such as on a calendar. If an older adult seems to be losing momentum toward their goal, it might help to remind them of their original purpose for identifying this goal. Help them to build up the mental and emotional energy in that direction.
- Resources: When you’re still in the planning and goal setting stages together, it’s important to identify the resources your aging loved one might need to accomplish their aspirations. If the obstacles end up being too great. they may lose momentum and lose a grip on their purpose altogether. But if, together, you can anticipate some of the challenges you might encounter, you might be able to also anticipate the resources they’ll need to get beyond those hurdles and keep moving forward. For a walking goal, you’ll want to make sure they have the ideal shoes ready, an alternate plan for rainy days, and a nutritious diet that will support their active lifestyle.
The bottom line is that it is never too early or too late in life to set goals that are appropriate to our interests and our best abilities. Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that our “best” can even change from day to day. We need to be compassionate and realistic with ourselves even as we challenge our comfort zone and reach farther toward our goals. By keeping these helpful considerations in mind and working together, life for aging adults can be lively and inspired.
If you’d like more ideas for how to live a thriving and active life as an aging adult, check out our blog. Institute on Aging is committed to helping seniors live independently with dignity and community. To learn more about our programs and services, give us a call today.