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A Senior’s Sense of Purpose: Feeling Useful Makes All the Difference

Senior woman and her adult daughter cutting flowers
Having a sense of purpose is especially important as we age.

Look online for the phrase “activities for seniors” and you’ll likely find a number of memory stimulation puzzles, crafts, games, and of course, the requisite bingo. What you won’t find, unless you really search much longer, are the meaningful, philanthropic activities that provide meaning and purpose to our lives. Yet, if you ask older individuals what they would most wish to do, the majority of them won’t mention games, art projects, or bingo. What they want more than anything is to feel useful.

The University of Minnesota shares details on how the most vulnerable times in our lives are our first year of life, and the initial year after retirement. Losing a sense of usefulness that comes from a rewarding occupation can bring about substantial health concerns – and even an earlier mortality rate, if that sense of meaning is not redefined in some way to empower the older person to experience a continuing sense of being needed.

One highly powerful program, the Baltimore Experience Corps, pairs retirees with young children in schools that are understaffed, providing them with the priceless opportunity to mentor, offer help with reading abilities, and serve as a kind and nonjudgmental buddy to the children. And they are certainly helping themselves in the process too. As Michelle Carlson, Ph.D., of the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health points out, “By helping others, participants are helping themselves in ways beyond just feeding their souls. They are helping their brains. The brain shrinks as part of aging, but with this program we appear to have stopped that shrinkage and are reversing part of the aging process.”

When supporting older adults who have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, it could take a bit of creativity to identify engaging activities that increase their sense of purpose and meaning. As top-rated providers of home care and senior services in Austin and the surrounding area, CareFor offers the following tips to help get you started:

  • Check out local and nationwide organizations that provide help to those in need – the homeless, veterans, animals, women and children in poverty or crisis, etc.
  • Find out if these agencies have any volunteer options that older adults or those with cognitive difficulties could provide assistance with, such as:
    • Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have ribbon campaigns that involve folding, cutting, and stapling lengths of ribbon to cards for distribution.
    • Pet shelters and humane societies are often in need of donated towels and blankets that can be washed and folded at home; or older adults and family members could possibly prepare homemade pet treats together, or maybe even take dogs for walks together or snuggle kittens.
    • Create care packages for the homeless or veterans with travel-sized toiletries, snacks, etc.
    • Work on coloring pages or other easy crafts together, letting the older person know they will be shared with a local domestic crisis center to brighten the day for women and children.

Make sure the older person has opportunities to help with as many projects as possible around the home: sorting and folding laundry, snapping beans, setting the table – letting the senior know how much his or her help is needed and appreciated. This will help to find a senior’s sense of purpose and meaning in life.

CareFor goes beyond merely providing care in the home; our caregivers are dedicated to helping seniors live lives filled with meaning and purpose. For more recommendations on helping older individuals maintain the highest quality of life or how to increase a senior’s sense of purpose, or to learn more about our Austin senior services and the communities we serve, contact us any time at (512) 338-4533

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