Avoiding Depression in the Elderly
Reprinted from "Seniors' Mental Health" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 15, p.32
There are many statistics that could be cited to support the notion that depression is a major health concern in the elderly. Instead, let’s look at real people and real situations. It’s a reality that this population endures more life changes in a shorter period of time than most adults. We commonly recognize significant life events as triggers for depression in other populations, but for seniors it can go unnoticed as just one of those things to expect as you get older.
Retirement can be freeing, but can also lead to a loss of purpose and reduction in income.
Chronic disease or sudden illness or injury can take a toll on one’s self-confidence, especially for those who live alone. Many conditions or medications also carry with them the added symptom or side effect of depression. Caregiver spouses are often victims of stress-related conditions and frequently die before their loved one.
Challenges may range from the loss of a driver’s license to the inability to walk. These changes can lead to a major loss of independence.
Whether it’s due to loss of spouse, siblings and/or friends, it’s difficult to replace relationships that have been nurtured for fifty years or more. Even the loss of a treasured pet has a significant impact.
Changes in health status or income are often accompanied by a change in housing needs. The loss of neighbours and familiar surroundings can lead to isolation and confusion. The loss of privacy, especially in care home situations is particularly difficult. Families are often far-flung geographically and have limited time to spend visiting.
Any of the changes listed above can contribute to the loss of social contacts and networks. Choices are reduced and seniors find themselves in survival mode. Fear and anxiety further reduce the senior’s ability to reconnect.
How can seniors prepare themselves to manage these many life-altering events? Information is a key component. Having an understanding of and access to community resources allows more choice. More choice allows more freedom, more control and more independence. Making use of community support programs provides more human contact, more frequently. Knowledge reduces fear and anxiety and allows the seniors to again develop relationships of trust.
Most communities have recreational opportunities for their senior population. Many have practical resources such as transportation assistance, telephone contact programs, meal delivery, and shopping and “home helps.” Some may even have Wellness Centres or Peer Support Programs. Volunteering has become a popular way for seniors to continue to make a contribution in their community, make use of their valued skills and find a renewed sense of purpose. Weaving a safety net calls for strong connections. Tying those knots before you really need them will help to prevent the downward spiral that depression can become.
At the Langley Seniors Recreation and Resource Centre, we see the transformation in people on a daily basis. The many senior clients that I visit through the Seniors Outreach Program literally breathe a sigh of relief when they learn of the options that are open to them to enhance their quality of life. Sometimes, a little support and information is all it takes!