Family Caregivers: Cultivating a Sense of Purpose in Older Adults Is Key to Satisfaction and Health

Perform an online search for the words “activities for seniors” and the results will likely be a mixture of memory stimulation puzzles, crafts, games, and of course, the requisite bingo. What you won’t find, unless you search much more, are the meaningful, philanthropic activities that bring purpose to our lives. And yet, if you ask older adults what they would most want to do, the majority of them will not mention games, art projects, or bingo. What they want more than anything is a sense of purpose.

The University of Minnesota reveals facts on how the most vulnerable times in our lives are the initial year of life, and the first year following retirement. Losing the sense of usefulness that stems from a rewarding career can bring about major health problems – and even an earlier mortality rate, if that sense of meaning is not redefined in some way to enable the older person to experience an ongoing sense of being useful.

One very powerful program, the Baltimore Experience Corps, matches older individuals with young children in schools that are understaffed, providing them with the priceless opportunity to mentor, help with reading skills, and serve as a kind and nonjudgmental pal to the children. And they are undoubtedly helping themselves in the process as well. As Michelle Carlson, Ph.D., of the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health notes, “By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls. They are helping their brains. The brain shrinks as part of aging, but with this program we appear to have stopped that shrinkage and are reversing part of the aging process.”

When supporting older adults who have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it may take a bit of innovation to discover enriching activities that encourage a sense of purpose and meaning. Live Well at Home offers the following tips to help family caregivers get started:

  • Research local and national agencies that assist those in need – veterans, the homeless, animals, women and children in impoverishment or a crisis situation, etc.
  • Determine if these agencies have any volunteer options that seniors or those with cognitive difficulties could help with, such as:
    • Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have ribbon campaigns that necessitate folding, cutting, and stapling lengths of ribbon to cards for distribution.
    • Animal rescue shelters and humane societies often need donated towels and blankets that can be washed and folded up at home; or older individuals and family members could prepare homemade pet treats together, or possibly even take dogs for walks together or play with kittens.
    • Assemble care packages for veterans or the homeless with travel-sized toiletries, snacks, etc.
    • Work on coloring pages or other easy crafts together, letting the senior know they will be provided to a local domestic crisis facility to brighten the day for women and children.

Be sure the older person has opportunities to assist with as many duties as possible around the house: sorting and folding laundry, shelling peas, setting the table – letting the senior know how much his or her help is needed and appreciated.

At Live Well at Home, our elderly home care assistance in Roseville and nearby areas goes beyond just providing care in the home; our caregivers are dedicated to helping seniors live lives full of purpose and meaning. For more tips on helping seniors maintain the highest quality of life, call us any time at 800-478-1209.

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