How to Motivate the Elderly

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Approximately 20% of the elderly population living in retirement communities experience depression, with the number of depressed women double the number of depressed men. The combination of age-related illness, disabilities that preclude daily living activities, and isolation contributes to a feeling of hopelessness. In order to remotivate our elders, we need to first get to the root of their problems.

Motivating the Elderly

  • Find out what medications the person is on and research the side effects. Some elderly people take medications that cause lethargy or adversely affect their moods. Others may be taking a combination that creates confusion or lack of motivation.

  • Friendly persuasion is one of the most important tools you can use to motivate anyone. Never force anyone to do anything he doesn't want to, even if it's "for his own good." You might have to spend some time gaining his trust, so don't expect him to jump up and do anything right away. A daily visit to his room or apartment will allow him to slowly warm up. Occasionally bringing a newspaper, magazine, or something else he enjoys will help.

  • Educate the person. Whether living independently, in assisted living, or in a nursing home, mastery of information, no matter what the subject or activity, will give people a sense of empowerment and ultimately provide true motivation.

  • People are social creatures. With the loss of a spouse, sisters, brothers, and peers, the social circle of many older people diminishes over time, and they feel isolated. One of the most important factors in engaging and motivating an elderly person is consistency - they need regular attention, not sporadic contact.

  • Learn what your elderly friend, relative, or patient enjoyed when younger and try to find a way to adapt that to their current situation. For example, for avid golfers, a putting green in the common area could provide some semblance of normalcy and give them something to look forward to. Regardless of their physical abilities, there are activities to keep their minds and bodies active. While some folks enjoy crossword puzzles, others might prefer reading or listening to music. For those who have some mobility, movement is important, whether they're ambulatory or in wheelchairs. There are simple stretches that almost anyone can do, or even leg lifts while in bed. Appeal to their senses by bringing in flowers or an audiobook.

  • As some people age, their sense of worth often declines. They were once valued members of a community because they had something to offer. Providing each person with a job gives them a sense of worth and responsibility, which adds more value to how they see themselves. Some retirement centers and nursing homes provide a plot of land for their residents to garden. If pets are allowed, having a "house" cat or bringing animals in to visit can often make the grumpiest person smile. For an elderly neighbor who still lives at home, asking her to taste test a new recipe or clip articles relating to a specific event will give her a sense of purpose.

  • Losing track of hours, days, weeks, or even months is a common frustration among the elderly. Strategically placed clocks and calendars with days marked off gives them a sense of time.

  • Acknowledge and praise the elderly person for accomplishments. However, it must be real and heartfelt, or the praise won't ring true. Never talk down to an older person, regardless of his frailties and disabilities.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don't be discouraged if initial efforts fail. Motivating a depressed person of any age takes time and commitment.

References

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