Typically, when people speak of self esteem, they are talking about kids, teens, and young adults. However, one segment of the population that has just as many struggles with self esteem is those who are in the senior demographic. It is not unusual for seniors to wrestle with their feelings of self worth as they face major life changes like retirement, the death of a spouse, and illnesses. Once an older person begins to suffer the effects of aging, such as limited mobility, chronic illnesses, and other physical limitations, they may wonder what they have left to offer to their families and the community. If you are responsible for a senior's care, making sure that your mom or dad are still feeling useful, wanted, and loved is a crucial part of caring for their emotional health.
Studies Show The Importance of Self Esteem
Researchers from Concordia University studied the effects of self esteem on the health of seniors. Over a four year period, 147 senior adults were monitored. The research group measured the participants' self esteem levels, stress levels, cortisol levels, and depression symptoms. When the study ended, researchers found that those with lower feelings of self worth ended up with higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that some doctors call the "stress hormone," and when a person has high levels of cortisol for a long period of time, they may gain weight, experience sleep disturbances, have an impaired memory and experience digestive problems. The researchers concluded that improving seniors' self esteem levels will not only affect older adult's mental outlook but will also yield health benefits.
Ways to Improve Seniors' Self Esteem
If a senior parent's care is your responsibility, you may realize that mom or dad are having a hard time with feelings of worthlessness. However, fixing the problem is not as easy as it sounds, especially when their issues stem from their own health issues, physical capabilities, and the inevitability of aging. There is no quick fix for these problems. However, the following suggestions can help your elderly loved one begin to feel better about himself.
1. Promote Social Connections
People who have wide social networks are going to feel valued, loved, and, consequently, have higher self esteem. One struggle that most seniors have is replacing the associates that they had from work. After retirement, they often have to work at making friends and establishing a wider social circle. Clubs, volunteer organizations, and churches are good places to start forming new connections with others after retirement. If your mom or dad is housebound, though, helping them find friendships is more difficult, but it is just as important. Sign them up for programs like Meals on Wheels and make getting them out of the house to community activities a priority.
2. Allow Them as Much Independence as Possible
Nothing erodes senior self esteem more than having to rely on caregivers for the basic needs of life. Seniors often feel worthless and humiliated by having to ask a loved one to help them in the bathroom, get dressed, or with some other aspect of personal care. Talk to mom about these concerns. She may prefer a professional caregiver to perform these services for her rather than her spouse or child. If she wants to do these things for herself, be patient, even if it takes twice as long as if you helped her with it. Also, let mom be responsible for managing her schedule as much as possible. Find ways for mom and dad to enjoy appropriate amounts of independence, even if just in small ways.
3. Encourage Positivity
Look for positive role models in the senior world. There are many older adults who are enjoying vibrant, interesting lives, even with the struggles of chronic illnesses, impaired mobility, and other difficulties of aging. Help mom and dad cultivate their interests and see the positives of their lives. They have a lifetime of experience and wisdom to share with those around them.
Self esteem is one aspect of senior care that may be easy to overlook, but it is extremely important. It affects both their physical and mental health. Talk to mom and dad to get an idea of how they are feeling about themselves.