Sunday, April 21, 2024

Keeping Your Elderly Loved One Engaged in Life

Many older adults feel like there is no benefit to staying motivated or active and have an attitude of “what’s the use?”  Yet most older adults wish to remain independent and do not consider how inactivity contributes to various health conditions preventing independence. 

Motivating older people to stay active and even exercise often means you may have your work cut out for you. With the many health challenges elderly people face, they can sometimes develop a mindset that is not easily swayed. Staying positive, patient and kind when trying to motivate a loved one to be more active will go a long way. The health benefits are even greater if they begin early in the aging process. Understanding how to motivate seniors will help you to extend the quality of life for your loved ones.  A great place to start is to consult with their medical team to review any potential problems that may be the reason for poor motivation.

Some Things to Discuss with the Doctor:

  • Are Medications Affecting Their Behavior? This could be a side effect or simply not taking medications properly. Adverse drug interaction is often a problem.
  • Is Depression or Anxiety an Issue? Depression often sets in with some illnesses such as stroke, dementia, heart disease, pulmonary disease and fractures. If you think depression exist, the doctor may be able to recommend medication that will help. Loneliness can lead to depression. Depression is twice as common in women than in men.  You may want to download a questionnaire  to screen for elderly depression.
  • Ask the Doctor for Advice on developing an atmosphere that will enhance motivation. A three way conversation with you, the doctor, and your loved one to encourage motivation with reinforcement on how important it is to maintain an active lifestyle for better mental and physical health may help overcome motivation problems.

See Also
Having Difficult Conversations
Role Reversal
Connecting Through Generations

Tough Conversations with Your Elderly Parent

If after discussing the medical issues with a doctor, Dad still doesn’t seem motivated, initiate a conversation to find out why. Maybe Dad is saddened because he cannot drive anymore.  After being independent for so many years this could be a tough pill to swallow. It is important to listen to what they are saying, acknowledge their feelings, and be respectful of their emotions. Simply listening gives comfort and offers support. Recognizing the barriers and coming up with solutions together could be motivational in itself. A little encouragement may help them to find that inner strength to embrace life.  Persuasion may be needed but it should be very gently presented, and never force something they are strongly against, even if it is for their own good.

Battling Loneliness

Elderly people have often experienced the loss of a spouse or others who they were close too and this may cause them to feel isolated. Orchestrating a routine of regular visitors or calls will give them something to look forward to and would require engagement. SageMinder Care Calls check in with your loved ones at the same time every day. These care calls can be to just check in, medication reminders, or to simply remind them to eat dinner.  Visitors could play a game of cards with them, take them out for ice cream, or simply chat for a while. A simply thing that would bring pleasure to the person can be motivating. 

My mother in law loved banana splits and would often ask if we would stop and get her one on our way home since we had an ice cream shop nearby. We often “forget” to stop so that when we got home we encouraged her to hop in the car and get her out of the house. She did not like to move around much even though she was perfectly capable of doing so. She also looked forward to funnel cakes during the summer when the carnivals were going on. Most elderly who are grandparents really enjoy visits from the grandchildren. Use these things of interest to motivate activity. Grandpa may enjoy going to a grandchild’s ball game.

Goals to Stay Engaged

Senior often underestimate or misunderstand how important it is to stay engaged or are at a point where they just don’t care. This makes it even more difficult to extend their quality of life. You may want to discuss setting a few minor goals. Setting a goal will give that extra little push to achieve and a sense of purpose. A caregiver I know and her mother set a goal for her mother to simply walk out to the mail box to pick up the mail. They kept it simple in the beginning in that she only needed to do it twice a week. Before we knew it she was going every day. Another idea - an elderly neighbor was ask if she could keep an eye out for the teen age daughter who got off the school bus in front of her home. The daughter stopped in everyday to let the neighbor know she was home and before you know it a really great relationship was formed. After school snacks were provided and the girl began to enjoy doing small task for the elderly neighbor. This small gesture nurtured a real sense of purpose as well as a new friendship. There are so many possibilities to be conjured up with just a little creativity. No one is ever too old to set goals. Maybe setting a goal will make life more interesting, giving a person something to strive toward or look forward to. Ask them to form a mental picture of what they want their life to be like, then set to work on how to make it a reality.

Care Calls Can Even Help With Activities of Daily Living

- Providing Structure and a Routine for the Day

Learn More or Call 1-800-839-3498

Assistive Devices

Sometimes elderly people lack motivation due to challenges they face every day. Daily tasks may be more and more difficult because of a loss of mobility or aching hands, knees, or fingers. There are many different websites that offer eating utensils that might help, jar openers, gardening tools, canes, walkers, and so much more that will keep seniors motivated to do more for themselves. 

Can and Should Do

So, sometimes, we enable inactivity by doing everything for someone.   While it is true that people need our help and it is true that it is good to help, it is also true that when we do things for people that they can and should do for themselves, we may do more harm than good.  For one thing, it sends the message that maybe they can’t do something – which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And, by not doing all they are capable of doing, they are not learning, growing, and strengthening themselves.  Like a muscle we no longer use, it atrophies and becomes weaker.  So, think through what a person is really capable of and ask if you have just gotten into a routine of doing something for someone that he really can and should be doing for himself.  These patterns are often quite ingrained; but taking baby steps to give a person back their rightful responsibilities can help increase a person’s sense of feeling capable again – and that can be motivating all by itself.  You may hear some complaints, but just take it slow and take it in stride and eventually, if you don’t give in, he will know you are serious.


No discussion of purpose and engagement would be complete without talking about service.  In our community, within family, or just helping a neighbor, having someone or something outside yourself to help can take away the blues and provide socialization, activity, exercise, and fun. Finding the right organization to help can be tricky - but start with your local United Way or Area Agency on Aging to see if they have ideas for a good fit.  If you are a retired accountant, maybe helping others with taxes would be a fun way to keep engaged.  Maybe you love animals but cannot have a pet of your own because of your rental agreement.  In this case, volunteering at an animal shelter can cover both the need to get out into the community and bond with a cute puppy or kitten! 

Motivation is Our Design

We were created with relationships and productivity in mind and without these experiences our mind, body and spirit would suffer. Simply feeling useful could be motivating. Regardless of any physical limitations, there are activities and things that can be set in motion to keep the mind active. A great aunt, who was still cognitively active but had some physical limitations, was motivated and pulled out of a slump when her granddaughter ask her to call her house after school every day to see if the children were home safely. These children were old enough to look after themselves for an hour but mom felt better knowing that Aunt Ruth was checking in and was going to give her a call if she did not get an answer. A simple connection and a feeling of being useful can immediately be motivational. It may take some ingenuity and a little action to set in motion but the results are well worth it.


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