Look after your mental health in later life

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Old age affects us in many ways, and it's important that we look after ourselves both physically and mentally as we get older. Dementia and depression can develop, but there are ways in which you can help prevent mental health problems - here's how to stay mentally and emotionally fit and well in later life.

Plan ahead
Getting older can lead to all sorts of worries, including concerns over future healthcare, your financial situation, housing, independence, or your will or funeral. And what might start as a nagging doubt can end up as a major concern that can lead to depression and anxiety. Planning ahead will help you to think things through carefully and alleviate those worries. For financial concerns, do as much research as you can about pensions, pension credits, and benefits you may be eligible for. You can do this via the government's website, or discuss your situation with Citizens Advice, who will be able to help. Alternatively, speak to an independent financial advisor about planning for your financial future. If your worries are related to health, future care or end of life, then it can help to talk things through with family members. Though it can be an emotional conversation for both yourself and your relatives, putting plans in place for the future can really lift a weight off your shoulders.

Keep busy
Retirement can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if your career formed a major part of your life. Leaving work can affect your sense of self-worth and self-esteem, as well as your social life, if you developed friendships within the workplace. If the latter is the case, make an effort to maintain those strong friendships, or look to establish new bonds by taking up a new hobby. Learning a new skill or volunteering not only provides social interaction, which is essential for maintaining your wellbeing, but it can help to keep your mind and body active, so think about those things that you've always wished you had time for, and research how and where you can get involved. Of course, it's equally important to relax, so do make time for yourself too.

Physical activity is great for body and mind, and it doesn't mean you have to sweat it out at the gym. Gardening, walking and household chores all have their physical benefits, and help to release endorphins to keep you feeling happy and healthy. Or why not try gentler forms of exercise, such as tai chi, Pilates, yoga, or even dance classes to maintain energy levels and mental wellbeing. Your mind also needs a little activity, so get reading or doing puzzles, crosswords or sudoku to keep it in tip top shape.

Sleep well
Just as activity can help you to stay fit and well, a good night's sleep can do the power of good. It gives both body and mind time to rest and repair, and not getting enough shuteye can lead to memory problems, irritability, a weakened immune system and general low mood. In the long term, lack of sleep could even lead to more serious issues of anxiety, stress and depression. Though you will probably find you need less sleep as you get older, particularly if you have recently retired, if you have trouble sleeping, try some simple lifestyle changes such as reducing caffeine or alcohol intake, to help you drop off. If it becomes a serious problem, visit your GP for further advice.

Get help
Isolation in old age can cause real problems in terms of mental health, so having support can make a huge difference. Open up to friends or family if you have particular worries, and try to keep in touch regularly, whether that's by phone, email, Skype or even good old-fashioned snail mail. If you need help with something that you feel family and friends aren't equipped to help you deal with, look for specialist advice. That could be via Age UK, Citizens Advice, local councils, or even counselling services such as the Samaritans or at online forums, again, such as Age UK. Talking to others who have been or are in a similar situation can help not only physically but mentally, and provides another source of social interaction, so don't be alone if you're struggling to cope.

Have you recently retired? What do you do to keep yourself well in both mind and body? Leave your comments below...
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