Beating back the blues
Dealing with depression can be a very real possibility for the aging.
Content courtesy of healthguide.org
September 20, 2010
As we age, life changes like health issues and the loss of loved ones and friends can have a negative impact on our mental health. While many aging adults are able to deal with these changes by turning to an active support network, others may become increasingly depressed or isolated.
According to the National Institutes of Health, of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older, about 2 million suffer from full-blown depression. Another 5 million suffer from less severe forms of the illness.
Left unchecked, depression can have a profound impact on quality of life and overall health. Fortunately there are steps to take to reduce or eliminate depression.
Here are some factors that can contribute to depression in the elderly:
- Loneliness and isolation: Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
- Reduced sense of purpose: Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
- Health problems: Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
- Medications: Many prescription medications can trigger or exacerbate depression.
- Fears: Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
- Recent bereavement: The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.
Look for these signs and symptoms that may indicate depression:
- Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes.
- Social withdrawal and isolation (reluctance to be with friends, engage in activities or leave home).
- Weight loss; loss of appetite.
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness).
- Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing).
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs.
- Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts.
If you suspect an aging friend or relative is depressed, you can:
- Invite your loved one out: Depression is less likely when people's bodies and minds remain active. Suggest activities to do together that your loved one used to enjoy: walks, an art class, a trip to the museum or the movies—anything that provides mental or physical stimulation.
- Schedule regular social activities: Group outings, visits from friends and family members, or trips to the local senior or community center can help combat isolation and loneliness. Be gently insistent if your plans are refused: depressed people often feel better when they're around others.
- Plan and prepare healthy meals: A poor diet can make depression worse, so make sure your loved one is eating right, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and some protein at every meal.
- Encourage the person to follow through with treatment: Depression usually recurs when treatment is stopped too soon, so help your loved one keep up with his or her treatment plan. If it isn't helping, look into other medications and therapies.
- Make sure all medications are taken as instructed: Remind the person to obey doctor's orders about the use of alcohol while on medication. Help them remember when to take their dose.
- Watch for suicide warning signs: Seek immediate professional help if you suspect that your loved one is thinking about suicide.
If you're depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the better you'll feel.
In addition to seeking professional counseling and/or psychiatric help, some ways to combat and prevent depression include:
- Getting out in to the world: Try not to stay cooped up at home all day. Go to the park, take a trip to the hairdresser or have lunch with a friend.
- Connecting to others: Limit the time you're alone. If you can't get out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or e-mail.
- Participating in activities you enjoy: Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.
- Volunteering your time: Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and regain perspective.
- Taking care of a pet: Get a pet to keep you company.
- Learning a new skill: Pick something that you've always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.
- Enjoying jokes and stories:Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy or read a funny book.
- Maintaining a healthy diet: Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, and take a daily multivitamin.
- Exercising: Even if you're ill, frail or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
Information from helpguide.org was used to supplement this report.