At one time or another we have all experienced self-esteem issues. Most people have things they are not happy or satisfied about in their lives, but we are now learning that these types of feelings may have considerable impact on our physical health, especially for the senior population.
A recent study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, an international journal that publishes research on the disciplines of psychology, neurology and psychiatry, found that seniors who experience self-esteem issues tend to show higher levels of Cortisol, a steroid hormone that suppresses the immune system. The study concluded that maintaining or increasing self-esteem in seniors, thus decreasing Cortisol levels, can decrease age-related health problems.
Researchers have shown that self-esteem tends to be lower in young adults, but increases as we age, at least until age 60. It is right around retirement age where self-esteem begins a new decline.
It is difficult to determine why self-esteem begins to decline at age 60, but some theories suggest that transitioning into a retirement lifestyle often means no more work, no more kids in the house and the addition of new physical limitations. A person’s education level, income, net worth, health and employment status all have some impact on self-esteem according to researchers.
The study related to self-esteem in seniors, which originated with the University of Concordia in Montreal, suggests that if we can improve the self-esteem in seniors we may be able to improve their physical health as well.
“Because self-esteem is associated with psychological well-being and physical health, raising self-esteem would be an ideal way to help prevent health problems later in life,” said Sarah Liu, who with her colleague, Carsten Wrosch, conducted the research for the study. Her comments were issued in a press release from the university.
Now that we have research showing that improved self-esteem in seniors may possibly improve physical health, the next question has to be – how do we increase self-esteem in seniors?
We build self-esteem in seniors much the same way we would try to improve the self-esteem in people of all ages. When we lack self-esteem we tend to lack self worth. Those suffering from self-esteem issues rarely experience praise, warmth or affection, which can be consistent with the lifestyle of many seniors who may live alone and have very little human interaction.
The good thing is we can change this and build self-esteem in seniors. Just like a child who lacks interaction with classmates, it is important to get a senior involved in activities where they can interact with other people. A great resource to get seniors active is the local senior community center. Most days per week there are planned activities seniors can participate in and it’s a great place to connect with other seniors, have a cup of coffee and share a discussion.
As much as human interaction is needed, so too is a sense of purpose, which many seniors may lose after they no longer have a job to go to every day. By engaging seniors in projects or activities that have determined goals, they know they are working toward something important and can enjoy the success in. Two great resources seniors can access to get involved in volunteering opportunities include Senior Corps (http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps) and Minnesota Seniors Online (http://www.mnseniorsonline.com/volunteer-opportunities.html).
As a society we need to do a better job of realizing that our seniors are sometimes the wisest of all of us because of their experiences in life. By engaging seniors in a conversation we can tap into a wealth of knowledge and we may benefit from their knowledge more than we ever imagined.