As people age, there is a higher tendency for them to be diagnosed with various types of diseases, illnesses and mobility issues due to their declining health. As such, medical needs focus more on the intervention that the elderly requires with regards to their physical health condition. These include their diet, physical exercise, detection of health issues, prevention of common illnesses, treatment of diseases and more.
With ageing comes new changes in life such as the loss of loved ones, no occupation, living alone and other social changes. This can take a toll on one’s mental health. Thus, psychosocial needs focus more on the emotional and mental well-being. If both aspects are healthy, the elderly are able to deal with the effects of ageing and become optimistic even as they get older. By caring for the elderly’s psychosocial needs, they will feel less depressed, lonely and isolated. We want them to feel hopeful and positive in their golden years.
Shifting our focus: Why is psychosocial care important for the elderly?
Psychosocial need is often overlooked when it comes to elderly care because the signs and symptoms can sometimes go undetected. Most of the time, more attention is focused on their medical needs as they are perceived as more urgent. Nonetheless, psychosocial need is a serious aspect of health care that should not be taken lightly and it is important for the overall well-being of the elderly.
Especially at their age, their senses such as hearing and sight may deteriorate, and their communication skills become weaker. Their way of life would be different since they might no longer be working and hence, they lose a sense of security. They may feel demotivated as even though they want to be productive, they are unable to perform like they used to. A change of environment especially if they are no longer living with their family members can be confusing for them as they have to deal with new people and surroundings. If these issues are not dealt with in time, it may lead to effects such as depression, loneliness and isolation.
How to care for the psychosocial needs of the elderly?
Spend time with the elderly
- Listen to their stories and learn about their interests
- Show them that you are listening sincerely through your facial expressions and body language
Be aware of their conditions
- If they have trouble hearing, try to speak in a louder voice (but do not startle them)
- Indicate that you are present in the room by signalling to them through hand gestures or eye contact
Encourage them to be active
- Get them to be involved in their own care and activities so that they can feel a sense of independence and confidence in being able to care for their self
- Get them to interact with others so they know that they are not alone
- By observing their expressions and picking up cues, try to guess how they are feeling on that day and respond to them appropriately (e.g. if they are agitated, find out what caused the agitation and try to understand)
- If they display signs of depression or any symptoms, be quick in reporting them so that timely interventions can be put in place
For professional caregivers and staffs at nursing homes:
- Change the layout of the nursing home to a home-like environment by modifying the interior: Avoid having long tables that do not encourage communication and promote interaction among small groups of elderly.
- Make the nursing home feel more homely and personalised. Ask the residents about their favourite things and meet their preferences.
- Make sure that for every interaction made with the resident, the purpose is to become closer to the resident. Make them feel that they are well loved and that it feels secure to be living in the nursing home.
For the community – here are organisations in Singapore that you should know if you are looking for help with regards to mental health care:
- AIC (Agency for Integrated Care): A one-stop platform – it has everything that elderly and caregivers need to know about ageing well including financial aid, care services, support groups and education on mental wellness.
- COMIT (COMmunity Intervention Teams): An alternative to institutional help, it is formed to provide an all-rounded approach to mental health care at community level. It consists of a team of health professionals, such as counsellors, occupational therapists, nurses, psychologists and programme coordinators. Their purpose is to “provide psycho-social therapeutic intervention” for their clients with mental health needs. Currently, there are 11 COMIT teams in Singapore. Click here for more of their information.