Retirement is a phase of life that many of us look forward to for years. Thanks to developments in medical care, we are on average living longer than ever before.
Did you know? – According to HelpAge, by the year 2050, over 30% of populations across Europe will be aged over 60. In theory, this should mean many blissful years of well-earned rest and relaxation in our golden years.
However, the unfortunate reality is that for many, by the time they reach this age, their quality of life may not be what it once was.
According to the Centre for Better Ageing, people in their 50s and 60s today face worse circumstances than the generation before them, with 1 in 5 people in this age group likely to face multiple, long-term problems across physical and mental health, lifestyle and material circumstances.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre found that only 19% of adults above the age of 75 believed that their life would improve over the next year. Among those elderly adults surveyed, the leading factors attributed to quality of life were the ability to communicate, the ability to dress oneself, and the absence of severe pain.
So what can be done to address this? Whether your concern is for a family member, friend, or someone you work with, keep reading to discover our top 12 ways to improve the quality of life for the elderly.
1. Mobility in the home
If we start with the issues that respondents to the Pew Research Centre’s study highlighted as the primary factor compromising quality of life in later life, we ought to look at the very fundamentals of comfortable living: health and physical mobility.
Although managing pain and physical wellness sits largely within the scope of healthcare professionals, there are many adaptations that family members, carers or friends can do to help elderly people feel more comfortable and reduce preventable pain.
Making adjustments within the home can ensure individuals do not have to over-exert or strain themselves when completing daily tasks such as washing, cooking and more. This could mean arranging furniture and possessions to be within easy reach, switching to accessible furnishings or sourcing mobility aids for safely and easily navigating the home.
Creating a comfortable environment within the home ensures it is the safe space it should be, so the elderly resident can simply relax and enjoy their free time.
2. Accessible transport
Another key consideration when it comes to mobility is transport. With publicly-funded transportation options being increasingly stripped back by governments, it is becoming ever-harder for elderly people to get around, whether that’s for the purpose of seeing loved ones, getting involved in the local community, or simply for the essentials such as food shopping and medical appointments.
Providing an elderly person with transport options can make a huge difference to their quality of life, meaning they don’t have to rely on expensive taxis or potentially uncomfortable driving to reach the places they need to go.
As free public transport passes are now being linked with retirement age, this support is becoming necessary earlier.
3. Support with nutritious meals
When an individual’s mobility is limited, it can be difficult to keep on top of the daily tasks that maintain a healthy lifestyle. One of these tasks is cooking.
In our later years, hours spent standing over a stove can become a strain on the body, and require more energy than may seem worthwhile. This can lead people to rely on ready meals and quick fixes that may not always be entirely nutritious.
Support with cooking can be invaluable in ensuring an elderly person is still able to enjoy home-cooked meals and the health benefits of a balanced diet. Whether this means helping with food prep, delivering meals or simply sharing simple recipes, it can make all the difference for an elderly person’s quality of life.
4. Wellbeing support networks
However, it’s not just physical health that contributes to an elderly person’s quality of life – mental health is crucial, too. And sadly, poor mental health is prevalent in older people.
MentalHealth.org explains that one in four older people experience depression but fewer than one in six seek help from their GP.
This makes it vital to provide wellbeing support networks for elderly people, both via organisations and within communities or families, to ensure that they have access to mental health support – or just a listening ear – whether or not they choose to access medical advice.
5. Social connections
One of the most common mental health struggles faced by elderly people is social isolation.
According to data from Age UK, 1.4 million people over 50 in the UK feel lonely on a regular basis.
However, older individuals are 5.5 times more likely to be often lonely if they don’t have someone to open up to when they need to talk compared with those who do, meaning that simply being a good friend or present family member for an older person can make a huge difference to their quality of life.
Alongside this, encouraging your loved one to get involved in classes or community groups can really help to boost their social circles and prevent them from feeling isolated. It is so important for elderly people to have a network of close friends in their area, so that they can interact with people on a regular basis.
However, with the prevalence of online communication, they can now also enjoy the ease of video calling family members and joining groups online in order to stay connected when they may not feel up to leaving the house.
6. Mental stimuli
A key component of good mental health for older people is maintaining mental agility. As we all know, the brain is a muscle – perhaps the most important in the body.
One of the most common effects of ageing is the loss of memory, whether in mild cases or more severe conditions such as dementia, which affects one in 14 people over the age of 65.
Engaging with mental stimuli can help to keep the brain functioning healthily, preventing or delaying these symptoms of ageing. Whether it’s through puzzles, mathematics problems or quiz shows, mentally-stimulating activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells, developing neurological “plasticity” and preventing future cell loss.
7. Accessible activity
Whilst we may feel more tired, and in some cases frail, as we age, being active is still vital to maintaining both physical and mental health in later life. Government guidelines recommend that older adults do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, as well as strengthening exercises twice a week.
Whether it’s going for a gentle walk, practising yoga or swimming, being active goes a long way towards maintaining flexibility, agility and strength, which will, in turn, prevent aches, pains and injuries.
A good level of fitness can also make daily tasks less strenuous, from doing the shopping to travelling to socialising with friends.
8. Sense of purpose
Regardless of age, one of the most central facets of building a good quality of life is having a sense of purpose. As we reach the later stages of life, this may become harder to define, as the areas of ourselves that we once derived pride and purpose from, such as our careers or family, become less pressing responsibilities.
But, for those who are retired, or don’t have family members to care for, this sense of purpose is still paramount. Whilst it may be appealing to no longer labour under the pressures of work and caring, doing something for others, or for your community, can be deeply fulfilling.
Providing opportunities to nurture this sense of purpose – whether it’s volunteering at a local charity, mentoring young people, or gardening, can significantly boost elderly people’s quality of life.
In fact, there are not only emotional benefits to this, but physiological ones, too. As the Chicago Tribune reports, “dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without this kind of underlying motivation.”
9. Cultural experiences
It can be easy to overlook the importance of culture in our lives, thinking that to have a cultural experience has to mean going to a high-brow art gallery or museum. But in reality, culture is wide-reaching and encompasses so much of the media and entertainment we encounter throughout our lives.
However, as we get older and often less mobile, it can be easy to be tempted to stay at home, or continue engaging with the same cultural products as we always have – watching the same kind of TV shows, reading the same magazines, and so on.
But, to provide a sense of inspiration, keep us thinking creatively and boost morale, mixing up our cultural experiences in later life is important. So, every now and then, going to watch a new film, or visiting a new place can be incredibly invigorating for an elderly individual.
10. Financial support
Of course, doing so often comes with a price tag – and not one that every older person can afford. In fact, older people are 2.3 times more likely to regularly feel lonely if they have money issues that prevent them from doing the things they want to do than people who do not have the same barrier.
For this reason, financial support remains important during later life.
With pensions decreasing in size and the economic climate making it ever-harder to save, older people can struggle to get by without earning an income, and this can have severe, wide-reaching implications from social opportunities to the ability to attend medical appointments and more.
In order to support older people to enjoy the best quality of life possible in their later years, pointing them in the direction of financial advice and support can be invaluable.
11. Time outdoors
After almost two years of lockdowns, we have all come to understand the true value of being in the great outdoors. Vitamin D from sunlight boosts our mood, fresh air improves our health, exercise makes us fitter and encountering other people certainly allows us to remain in our usual minds!
But, for those older individuals with mobility issues, accessing the outdoors can be tricky. So, helping them to do so by organising easy-to-use transportation is vital.
There’s nothing quite like a quiet few hours outdoors to give us a good re-set, and this is something older people ought not be excluded from.
12. Animal interactions
So, let’s end on a positive note. Whilst it might seem like a luxury, interacting with pets can have a significant impact on elderly people’s quality of life.
Pet-owners tend to have healthier hearts, stronger immune systems and experience fewer mental health challenges. This is partly due to the increase in exercise we have when caring for animals such as dogs, but also because of the mood-boosting nature of our interactions with animals we love.
In fact, a study in the Journal of Nutrition for the Elderly found that a whole range of factors such as eating, exercise, nutritional status, and specific cardiovascular risk factors were improved among seniors aged 60 and above who cared for pets!
And it makes sense – after all, who wouldn’t feel happier and more spritely after a day of looking after an energetic, affectionate cat or dog?
The reality is that the factors that contribute to good quality of life for the elderly are no different than for any other adult age group – it is simply that the barriers to experiencing these factors can increase.
So, when you’re thinking about how to improve older people’s quality of life, it’s important to balance a consideration of the specific barriers people in later life face, with a thoroughly humanised conception of what these barriers might be, and how each individual prefers to tackle them.