August is National Wellness Month. It’s a good time to reflect on your own health as well as explore new ways of living a healthier life. This is especially important for those of you caring for a loved one struggling dementia. You need to keep your own health operating on all cylinders to be able to cope with the many daily challenges you and your loved one encounter.
The International Council on Aging has created a wellness model that involves seven dimensions of wellness. Take a moment to read about them and consider them in context with your health and how they may impact your daily life.
- Emotional: How you cope with your own feelings can have a direct impact on your emotional frame of mind. If you find yourself feeling stressed with persistent negative thoughts, you may want to consider peer counseling and stress management classes to help you better cope. Caregivers should seek out dementia support groups in your area.
- Intellectual, cognitive: When was the last time you played a game of cards or a board game, such as chess? Engaging in stimulating activities helps keep our brains sharp and our outlook intellectually active. These games can be helpful to those with mild cognitive impairment, helping to retain brain pathways to keep memory intact for as long as possible.
- Physical: We all know how important regular physical activity is to our overall wellbeing. Why is it so hard to get up and get moving? You don’t have to run a marathon to experience the benefits of physical activity. Try walking or a light, daily workout. Encourage an elderly loved one to join you. Try also to substitute healthy foods for processed foods and high sugar desserts. Limit your alcohol intake and, if you smoke, make the commitment to stop. Follow some common sense guidelines and you’ll look better and feel better!
- Professional, vocational: Everyone needs to have a sense of purpose in life. Even if you are retired, there are lots of things you can do to feel useful. Learning new skills and keeping old ones sharp help us to stay connected to the world around us. If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, find things that he or she can do to contribute, no matter how small. It can make a big difference.
- Social: Few things can do more damage to our wellbeing than becoming socially isolated. Maintaining ties with family and friends is so important, especially as we age. For individuals with dementia, those relationships take on new meaning, helping them connect with their earlier lives and keep the brain active and engaged. Make sure you regularly participate in activities that bring you in contact with others. If you have a loved one with dementia, try arranging visits from young family members and friends. Inter-generational activities are particularly beneficial to wellness.
- Spiritual: Whether you consider yourself “religious” or not, most of us feel a sense of calmness when we are able to put aside our own frustrations and focus on more spiritual elements and concepts. Whether it involves regularly visiting your own house of worship or engaging in other spiritual activities, such as meditation, making the higher connection has a way of easing the daily stress of living and focusing outside of ourselves on connecting to the greater world around us.
- Environmental: Taking better care of the world around us can help us to take better care of ourselves. Doing small, daily things to help keep your immediate environment “greener” makes good sense, promoting the wellness concept out to benefit others. Look for ways you can get better at recycling and taking care of your environment. You’ll feel better for contributing and doing your part to make the world safer and healthier for those generations that follow.
While August is wellness month, it’s important to regard the tenants of wellness as more than just a once-a-year concept. Look at ways you can make your day to day living situation healthier. Reach out to others in need and help if possible. Wellness can become an integral part of your life with a little thought and practice. You’ll feel better, happier and more connected to all the things that matter!