What makes people think positively? To some, it just comes naturally. Others may struggle to look on the bright side. Then, there are those who always seem discouraged, even when things are going well.
If the older adult in your life seems emotionally troubled, you may want to get them screened for depression. However, a negative general outlook could be just as serious as clinical depression. In addition to making your loved one or client unhappy, a negative outlook can actually harm their health. Learn why this is the case – and why having an aide at home may be the key to turning it around.
Your brain on negativity
According to a recent Finnish study, cynical, distrustful people may be more prone to dementia. These characteristics have even been linked to other, equally serious conditions like heart disease.
One possible explanation for this phenomenon might be that people who don’t trust others aren’t as socially active. This lack of socialization can cause brain function to deteriorate. When an older adult isn’t using the cognitive skills that socialization requires, brain function can suffer. Additionally, negativity may make people less likely to engage in brain-boosting behaviors, like maintaining a healthy diet and exercising. Finally, one theory hypothesizes that personality can actually cause structural changes in the brain.
Turn that frown upside down
When it comes to extending the life of an older adult, you can’t address health issues that are beyond your control. But a person’s frame of mind is always something they are capable of changing – and if you’re a home health aide, you can help encourage them to form healthy mental health habits.
This encouragement needs to involve more than just platitudes such as “Smile, why don’t you?” or “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Older adults may be dealing with severe and unrelenting problems, and even the youngest among us know a cliche when we see one. Many older adults have suffered serious losses, like the loss of a life partner. Even the loss of independence that is experienced by most older adults is enough to present a serious challenge to their positivity, especially if they were formerly accustomed to leading active, spontaneous lives. Your loved one or client may be struggling with a chronic illnesses and coping with some related stress and anxiety. Here are a few ideas to help make them feel more upbeat:
Empathize. When someone complains to us that things aren’t going their way, one of our first instincts may be to disagree. “It’s not so bad,” we say, or “Others have it worse.” Far from helping, this strategy invalidates the person’s emotions, frequently making them feel worse than before. Oddly enough, one way to increase positive thinking is to empathize. Phrases like “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” and “It sounds like you’re having a rough time,” can offer a sense of comfort, deflating a negative frame of mind. Feeling understood is crucial for anyone who is suffering or stuck in a rut; only then can they begin to address the issue head-on.
Focus on their strengths. Much of growing older is defined by negative events – losing loved ones, becoming homebound or suffering acute illnesses. Help the older adult in your life focus on the things they can control, such as setting their own schedule, as well as happy aspects of their lives, no matter how small. Remind them of things they can still look forward to, like holiday dinners with their family several times a year or an adult day club they attend several days a week. This is the kind of positive mental health habit you should encourage your loved one to develop on their own as well, so they can achieve a sense of ownership of their state of mind.
Just be there. Oftentimes, one of the worst parts of growing older is feeling isolated and alone. Having an aide at home can give older adults the companionship they need. There is a strong likelihood they’ll feel better if someone is coming to visit them every day, or multiple times a week. This may be the case even if they don’t overtly express it, or are unable to do so. It may also be the case even if they don’t demonstrate an explicit need to speak about anything. Sometimes, simply having another person around is enough.
An aide at home can have a positive impact
Negative thinking can shorten an older adult’s lifespan, but a home health aide or caretaker may be able to change all that. If you want to foster positivity in a client or loved one, consider the tips above for forming healthy mental habits. You can also call, write, and send cards; in other words, keep reminding them how important and special they are to you. And who knows? By doing so, you may just end up feeling more positive about life yourself!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.