What Makes Seniors Smile

Written by Hiland - Senior Lifestyle Expert on Tuesday, December 13, 2016

While families tend to focus on remedies they feel are convenient, affordable and safe, it is easy to lose track of one important ingredient; the senior’s happiness. Both are important but often caregiver happiness and senior happiness are measured differently. The greatest reward for the thoughtful caregiver is a beaming smile from their charge. This can be an elusive accomplishment.

We have often talked about quality of life and the importance of mobility, social interaction and mental exercise integrated into the senior’s lifestyle. Caregivers that ensure these three disciplines are on the plate every day are ahead of the game.

Senior planning begins with emphasis on finding the right health, emotional, caregiving and financial fit for senior loved ones. Seniors, their family members and caregivers have many options but must remember that what works well for one senior may be inappropriate for another.

What Causes Senior Smiles

In 2014, the New York Times compiled what should be “must read” research for senior caregivers. Results of the research were published in The Journal of Consumer Research in 2015 and indicated that many caregivers misunderstand what makes seniors happy.

Every senior is different but one glaring misunderstanding is that what makes the caregiver happy is probably not what makes the senior happy. As noted by Amit Bhattacharjee of Dartmouth College; “As seniors become more settled, they tend to enjoy ordinary experiences that give them feelings of security and sense of self.” Day-to-day problem-solving may be a nuisance for caregivers but actually lifts spirits of seniors.

It is no surprise to caregivers that seniors tend to repeat stories and events from their past. Memories are important and activities like organizing scrapbooks and describing the senior’s upbringing tend to make seniors happy even if they are repetitious for the caregiver. The bottom line is that it is better to indulge them than discourage these conversations.

Extroverted Seniors vs. Introverted Seniors

Caregivers must quickly learn to identify senior personality types. Most researchers recognize two basic personalities; introverted and extroverted. If we accept the premise that depression is a common enemy of aging persons, we can easily realize how important group activities such as groups, clubs, organizations and charity activities can be to our seniors.

But, as much as seniors may enjoy these activities, they usually address them quite differently. Extroverted personality types love group interaction and are often outspoken, “life of the party,” types. On the other hand, introverted seniors may derive the same level of enjoyment but with a quieter, more passive demeanor.

As different as their approaches may be, both types are usually happy engaging in group activities. One of the biggest mistakes caregivers make is trying to encourage responses that are outside the individual’s comfort zone.

Memories Are Good

Many caregivers hear the same stories over and over. After a while, they sound repetitious and predictable. Yet, researchers have found that memories and storytelling are happy experiences for seniors. Many suggest encouraging scrapbook compilations and even setting up a designated area where the senior has the sense of a project.

This project can involve problem solving, performing research and even the creation of a family tree to be handed down to future generations. These projects take those repetitious stories and turn them into very positive, happy experiences for the senior. Mindful caregivers set the stage for this project and should always ask how the work is progressing. Be interested, encourage family members to throw in some support and watch the smiles!

Researchers from Stony Brook University like all these “happy” initiatives but remind caregivers not to disrupt the senior’s routine. Creating work space and setting aside time within the existing routine is the right way to a happy senior lifestyle. What will you do to help your senior find their smile today?