May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a good time to reflect on things family caregivers can do to maintain good mental health for themselves as well as their loved ones who are challenged with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s.
You may be interested to know that there is a link between mental health and dementia. A study co-funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry analyzed the mental health records of 1.7 New Zealand citizens over a period of thirty years.
The study found that mental disorders developed in an individual’s youth can lead to a greater risk of dementia. Furthermore, the study found that intervening at an early age to treat mental disorders and issues, such as anxiety, can potentially decrease the risk for dementia later in life.
So, whether you have been diagnosed with dementia or you are caring for someone who has, taking actions every day to care for your mental health and wellbeing can help keep your mind as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has published tips to promote mental health that everyone should follow. We’ve paraphrased 5 of them as follows:
- Exercise regularly. You don’t have to work out to the point of exhaustion. Make a commitment, even if for only 30 minutes per day. If you are caring for an aging loved one, encourage them to get up and move as well. Take a short walk. Exercise of any kind can improve mood and mental acuity. It feeds the body and the brain. And it feels good!
- Get plenty of sleep. Stick to a schedule and try to get 7-8 hours every night.
- Focus on being more positive. Identify those thoughts that bring on negativity and work to replace them with positive thoughts.
- Learn how to relax. Whether it’s meditation, yoga or simply taking deep breaths in your backyard, take opportunities throughout your day to slow things down and focus on relaxation of body and mind.
- Stay engaged and connected. Maintaining connections to family and trusted friends is critical to maintaining mental health. They can be a strong support network during challenging times. And human interaction keeps our brains tuned in and active.
Mental health awareness deserves to be practiced, not just every May, but every month. That includes family caregivers as well as individuals diagnosed with dementia. Becoming more self-aware and following the above tips can make a positive impact on a daily basis and bring greater emotional wellbeing for all the challenges of life ahead.