Recent studies have proven that boredom and depression can have a very real effect on physical, emotional and mental health. This doesn’t just apply to teens or thirty-somethings. Actually, for seniors, boredom and depression can be lethal. Caregivers are often advised on methods to alleviate their own depression after long periods of caregiving, but what about the elderly being taken care of? Are their needs being met?

Age-related declines in memory and cognition are often blamed on physical illnesses and disease processes, but did you know that depression is also a major cause of such declines?

Sure, we all slow down as we grow older, but we need to keep our elders engaged in activities that help them maintain mobility and keep them engaged and interested in life.

Depression is a treatable illness. Social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for depression and suicide. The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (2002) has repeatedly advised health care industry caregivers that the generation of baby boomers is at increased risk for depression and boredom. The June 19, 2003, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine released results of a five-year study that found seniors who regularly joined in mentally stimulating activities enjoyed a reduced risk of dementia.

What are some ways family caregivers can help prevent such a rise in depression or physical decline caused by inactivity?

Senior activities
Depending on the physical and cognitive capabilities of your elder, consider the following ways in which you can help him or her stay active and engaged in life:

Get your loved one involved in some type of social interaction

  • Senior centers
  • Card clubs
  • Volunteering
  • Talking with others

Encourage exercise

  • Many senior community programs offer over 65 exercise programs
  • Join your elder for a short walk outside or at the mall every day
  • Encourage your elder to keep moving, at least 30 minutes a day

Teach your loved one how to play video games

  • Easy to play, they improve fine motor movement skills and increase brain stimulation
  • Wii Fit is a fun, easy exercise
  • Try chess, solitaire, and other single-player games

Create a memoir, a memory book, or a family legacy

  • Scrapbooking is great for mental stimulation and fine motor skills

Continue or take up a new hobby

  • For those who enjoy quilting or sewing, suggest yarn crafts or those that use larger tools and materials
  • Learn a new language or subject
  • Take up photography or some hobby that offers mental, physical and emotional engagement for elderly activities

Maintaining stimulation

Keeping busy is not merely a matter of movement. Activities for the elderly can also be geared toward those who have physical and/or mental limitations. A few suggestions for senior activities that cater to such limits include:

  • Music – Encourage a senior to play piano, sing or join a choir
  • Art – For any skill level, drawing, watercolors and oil painting are great for mental stimulation and fine motor skills
  • Storytelling – Libraries and schools are always looking for storytellers for children’s groups

Enriching every day
It’s not always easy to find just the right activity that might help pull a lonely, sad or frustrated elder out of the house, out of a funk or even relieve depression, but it’s your responsibility to try. After all, you wouldn’t like to sit around all day with nothing to do, so why should your elder? Look for senior activities that you can join in on as well, which will help build bonding and understanding, and will also prepare you for your own future needs.