As we focus on older adults’ mental health this week, we look at how aging relates to mental illness – how it affects it and how it looks different in older adults. Depression is not a “normal” sign of aging.
Although common in older adults, it is something to be taken seriously. But how do you know when it’s more than “just the blues”? After all, everyone has feelings of sadness or unhappiness now and then. But when feelings of sadness don’t go away and interfere with daily life, depression may be the reason.
Depression can occur in older adults due to a relapse of depression that occurred earlier in life. Or it could be brought on by ailing health, the loss of a loved one, retirement or loss of independence. People in nursing homes and other long-term care settings are especially vulnerable to depression; up to half suffer from this illness.
It’s important to know the signs of depression in an older adult, as people older than 65 may experience depression differently than those who are younger.
The following should be warning signs if they last more than two weeks or interfere with daily life:
- Persistent sadness, apathy
- Feeling worthless or helpless
- Difficulty sleeping
- Frequent tearfulness or crying spells
- Withdrawal from regular social activities
- Pacing, fidgeting or irritability
- Changes in appetite and sudden weight gain or loss
- Physical ailments that don’t appear to have another medical cause
- Thoughts of death or suicide and/or suicide attempts (remarks about suicide should be taken seriously and reported to a doctor)
Although depression is difficult, it is treatable – no matter what your age!
Here are some ideas to combat depression for older adults:
Make the effort to meet new people. Relationships are a great source of emotional support and although it may seem difficult to make new friends at an older age, it is definitely worth the effort!
Everyone has strengths! Find yours and volunteer in your community. You can check with your local senior center, area agency on aging or hospital for volunteer opportunities.
Take up a hobby
Hobbies can keep you motivated and moving forward. Look into where your interests lie – here are some ideas:
- model cars
- arts and crafts
- needlepoint or quilting
- playing an instrument
- pen pals
Adopt a pet
Most people don’t feel so alone in the company of a pet, because pets love you unconditionally. As an additional benefit, caring for a pet can renew meaning and purpose in your life.
Research has shown people who reminisce have enhanced emotional health and are less likely to be lonely or withdrawn. Think back on your life – the good times, the challenging times – and talk about them with your family or friends. Your grandchildren both young and old will cherish these conversations!
When people feel down because of a change in life or health circumstance, they typically return to usual after two months. If feelings of sadness and hopelessness are constant and do not recede with time, it is a sign of depression. If you or someone you know may need help, Jefferson Center has specialized counselors trained in senior services who can provide therapy and coping skills. Check out our Senior Services at www.jcmh.org for more information.
Shannon Gwash is the Director of Wellness Services for Jefferson Center and is also a Certified Mayo Clinic Wellness Coach. She earned her MS from the University of Denver in Strategic Health Communications/Behavior Change. She has nearly 10 years of experience in the communication world and nearly three in parenting … which clearly makes her an expert there. To stay sane, she runs around Sloan’s Lake, hikes with her daughter, enjoys outdoor concerts and reads nerdy books.
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