By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
For seniors, being engaged is key to mental health
Senior moments
Rich DeLong is the executive director of Station Exchange Senior Care in Richmond Hill. - photo by File photo

I’ve read a few articles recently that confirmed my beliefs regarding people that become disengaged as they age.

A study by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College found that 92 percent of people ages 55 to 64, and 76 percent of respondents 65 or older, were involved with paid work, volunteering, caregiving or educational activities.

But these older Americans are not just casually involved in these activities. They’re often actively engaged in them — especially when the opportunities support their sense of purpose, challenge and fulfillment.

Even more important, the study discovered that this high level of engagement is directly linked to the overall well-being of older adults.

Those who reported being highly engaged in work, volunteering, caregiving or educational activities had significantly higher scores for life satisfaction and mental health than those who were relatively unengaged.

It turns out that being involved in activities is not the key to good mental health in later life – engagement is, especially for people 65 and older. There is a clear correlation between the level of someone’s engagement and the degree of his or her mental health.

I have family members who come to me all the time and tell me that their loved one appears to have the beginning stages of dementia and they cannot have a coherent conversation with their father anymore.

When I discover that he is living alone, or maybe living in a setting where there is little encouragement to be active, it is not hard to conclude that more social stimulation will usually help re-engage him to become more functional with family and with society in general.

Again, people need a reason and a purpose to keep on "keepin’ on."

As people age, normal changes in the brain can make it more difficult to learn new information or remember things. In people who have dementia, this intellectual impairment becomes so severe that it interferes with their lives.

Sometimes cognitive decline cannot be avoided, but in other cases, keeping your mind adrenalized or interacting with your peers may help ward off dementia and depression, which is another common senior health concern.

A recent study from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that highly social seniors had a 70 percent lower rate of cognitive decline than their less social peers.

Another study by researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham discovered that internet use was associated with a 30 percent decrease in depressive symptoms.

Could Facebook hold the key to healthy aging? I have my doubts. Although Facebook certainly plays a key role in the lives of many seniors today, true engagement involves two or more parties interacting together.

There is no doubt in my mind that keeping up with family and friends – all through the eyes of social media – is good, but it’s probably not enough.

The challenge for many senior living communities today is finding ways to keep their residents engaged. It’s not hard; it just takes the effort and desire to want to involve people in mind-invigorating activities on a routine basis.

I’ve seen it first-hand. It may be fun and entertaining to listen to a person sing, but it is way more engaging to participate in a sing-a-long, tell stories between songs and invoke memories from life experiences.

Are you truly enthusiastic, dedicated and often completely absorbed in the activity at hand? Are you engaged, my friends?

Contact DeLong at 912-531-7867 or

Sign up for our E-Newsletters