Our Hope Unit Director, Neta Ford, R.N, and her husband, Paul Ford, was asked to write an article about aging process and mental health.
“I didn’t know I could hurt so many places!”
“As we grow older, our bodies start to change,” says Neta Ford, R.N., Program Director for the Hope Unit at Morehouse General Hospital. “We start to notice the change in our stamina, in our physical bodies and how we feel. We battle issues with our kidneys, blood pressure, arthritis, and pain. We have to go to the doctor more often and take more medications. We are more isolated. We need more sleep than we used to. Oftentimes we fail to notice that these physical issues are taking a toll on our mental stability. We become aggravated, sharp tempered, and even depressed by the changes we endure as our bodies age. It’s important to let you doctor know about these things as well as your physical ailments! We should pay just as much attention to our minds and emotions as to our physical bodies.”
“I’m not crazy!”
Many seniors are reluctant to discuss their mental and emotional health because they still associate struggles in these areas with being somehow weak or damaged. “I’m not going to that place, I’m not crazy!” they may say. “Society tends to be very understanding about people with physical needs but looks down on those with mental or emotional illness, which is really quite unfair,” Neta says.
A broken spirit
Solomon, the biblical wise king, said: “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) Paul Ford, director of spiritual care for Paramount Healthcare Consultants, has seen this to be true all too often. “I have seen some seniors with terrible physical ailments just thrive because of their strong spirit, and I have seen others just waste away—they were emotionally, mentally, and spiritually broken.”
Paul had a background in hospice care, but after joining Paramount he requested additional training in areas of mental health and activity engagement when he saw how important it was to the well-being of nursing home residents to stay active and to have the staff understand and support their mental and emotional needs.
Music, Movement, and Connection
“Music is such a powerful therapy,” says Paul, who often provides musical activities for the homes he serves. Not only does it stir positive emotions, it gets people moving and makes magic moments of connection where everyone feels together. Those elements—positive emotions, social connection, and physical and mental activity—are so important to our mental and spiritual health.”
“Beware of all or nothing thinking—some people say, ‘I can’t do what I used to, so I just won’t do anything.’ That kind of thinking traps people into a vicious cycle of isolation and depression,” Paul says. “Take baby steps—For example, if you can’t run anymore, maybe you can exercise in your chair to oldies music. Just making up your mind to do SOMETHING that you CAN DO will often create a positive cycle instead of a negative one.”
The power of gratitude
As we enter Thanksgiving season, never underestimate the power of gratitude! “One of our administrators recently shared with me about her encounter with a resident who had just returned from being at an Intensive Outpatient Program,” Paul says. (An Intensive Outpatient Program, or I.O.P., is a community service provided by mental health hospitals such as the Hope Unit where people with depression or other issues can enjoy group activities and therapeutic sessions under the supervision of a psychiatrist.) “She asked the lady how it went. The resident beamed as she shared how they had done a group exercise of sharing what they were thankful for, and how she had suddenly gotten a new perspective on life as she realized how blessed she was.” That simple act of gratitude at the I.O.P. put a glow on the rest of her day.
So, pay attention to your mind and emotions! And this season, may we all strive to give thanks, not only because our Creator has blessed us, but also because it will do wonders for our own mind and spirit as well.
By Neta and Paul Ford
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