Many of us remember the triangle chart of life that went viral a few decades ago. If you’re unaware of it, let us remind you. The chart highlights the three main elements one needs to live a fulfilling life: money, time, and companionship. It states that we are missing one of these critical elements in every stage of life. In childhood, you have time and friendship but no money. In adulthood, you have money and companionship but no time. While in old age, you have time and money but no fellowship.
As we all know, old age catches up to everyone, whether you were a broadway ballet performer or a fighter pilot for the air force. All the zest and adventures of your youth eventually become memories as your mind and body begin their journey downhill from the mountain called life.
The worst part of this phase is not the physical changes but the loneliness and feeling of irrelevance that follow. Most friends have found their final resting place, work and colleagues are another memory, while children are too busy making their own lives and hence don’t have the time (Remember the chart?)!
How can senior adults make up for their loneliness?
Many people in old age long for a sense of community and purpose to make up for the loneliness. Those who find themselves part of an excellent aged care community or nursing home can often build a social circle from scratch and beat the loneliness. However, humans have an innate need to have a sense of purpose by helping, creating, honing, or teaching something or someone. Without an aim, these people often fall prey to depression and other similar ailments.
Fortunately, plenty of meaningful activities for senior adults can help them find motivation and improve their mental health, so they can also feel like valuable community members. With that said, let’s go through a few of them:
Finding a spiritual connection
It is common for people to give little thought to matters of spirituality and religion in their youth. However, as we grow older, we find ourselves becoming more and more inclined toward these subjects. Research suggests that senior adults have the highest participation in religion and spirituality.
There are several explanations for this increased devotion in senior adults. For one, life significantly slows down during the final years, with few responsibilities. Therefore, elders generally have more time to think about and dedicate to these matters. Since old age makes one more aware of their mortality, belief in the Almighty makes the thought of life coming to an end a little easier.
Whatever the reason, finding a spiritual or religious anchor to hold on to gives life a renewed meaning and improves mental health. Therefore, many nursing homes also have an in-house church or chapel where residents can build connections.
Learning a new skill
Contrary to popular belief, there is no age limit to learning. Old age is believed to be the best time to explore and expand your skills and knowledge. After all, senior adults have no shortage of time and a lifetime’s worth of experience under their belt.
It is the right time to learn cooking, sewing, painting, or any other new skill. After all, Julia Child didn’t publish her bestseller cookbook until 49, while Vera Wang designed her first wedding dress at 40! For senior citizens, it is best to take advantage of the newfound freedom from the rat race and hone their skills.
By mastering a new skill in old age, senior adults can find a new purpose in life to fill their days. The sense of achievement they will get may help maintain their mental health and make them feel more fulfilled.
Reconnecting with nature
Not all of us are born with a green thumb, but it is a skill that anyone can learn with dedication and persistence. Gardening is an excellent activity for senior adults that requires physical effort and mental focus.
As with all activities that require you to get your hands dirty, gardening can be highly therapeutic and improve mental health. As long as you have time and patience, it can also be extremely fulfilling. Given the benefits of gardening for improving mental health, many nursing homes have little vegetable gardens set up within their premises. Most of the residents in the nursing homes look after these gardens. These vegetables, once ripe, are used for cooking daily meals at the respective nursing home.
It is one thing to see the fruits of your labour, but it is another altogether to eat them! This makes gardening a meaningful activity that gives seniors a sense of purpose.
Writing a memoir
Everyone has a beautiful life story if told correctly. Fortunately, senior adults have plenty in this department.
Old age is the perfect time to tell your story, given they have ample time. Senior adults can either write a short memoir about a transformative period of their life or a complete autobiography. Besides, when the story is told from a person’s point of view who has gone through several seasons of life can be a treat to read.
On the other hand, telling your life story gives a sense of belonging, and having people resonate with it makes one feel seen. For seniors looking for new meaning in life, finding people to relate to their life stories can be highly beneficial and help them beat the feelings of despair and loneliness.
Volunteering at a cause
Every person is different, and while some look for internal fulfilment, others seek satisfaction by making a practical difference in the world.
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities for senior citizens through which they can support a cause. Older adults with great connections can help run a fundraiser for refugees, while others may be better suited to volunteer their weeknights at the local food bank.
It is entirely a personal choice. Based on personal beliefs and affiliations, senior adults can find a cause that they resonate with and dedicate their time or resources to further the agenda.
Old age may be the final stage of life, but that doesn’t mean it must be a sad or unfulfilling time. Senior citizens can find new meaning and purpose in life in these final years and maintain good mental health.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.