Helping Seniors Overcome Isolation and Depression
Depression and isolation are very real problems with our aging senior population and according to a recent NY Times article, their numbers are growing. Almost two million people over the age of 65 rarely or never leave their homes, which makes up roughly 6% of this group. These homebound folks far outnumber the residents of nursing home facilities at around 1.4 million, and of those who haven’t left their house in the past month, 80% have dementia and another 60% don’t go out by themselves anymore.
Coping with depression is difficult at any age, but coupled with failing health, victims of stroke, those struggling with arthritis, they have higher rates of heart and lung disease, therefore most of these people have literally become prisoners in their own homes. Depression is widespread amongst this older crowd affecting up to a third of those semi-homebound persons and almost 60% of the completely homebound.
So how can we help? What are some ways for the elderly to curb their growing feelings of depression and isolation? Here are some tips on keeping our older friends and relatives happier:
Alcohol and Prescription Drugs
Many people, regardless of age, may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to curb their depression, when in fact, alone or together, these will likely only make things worse, not to mention a dangerous combination. USA News recently reported a new trend with “overage drinking,” it’s not the college kids that are increasing their drug and alcohol use, it’s grandma and grandpa.
Research has shown that alcohol and prescription drug problems among adults 60 and older were among the fastest-growing health issues facing the country, expressing worry about an “invisible epidemic” of substance abuse among seniors. If you believe an older adult has a substance abuse or alcohol problem, encourage them to get help.
Differentiate Grief From Depression
By the time women reach the age of 65, over half of them will be widows and losing a life partner can lead to chronic depression for up to 15% of these separated spouses. The problem comes with identifying the difference between a normal grieving process and signs of actual depression.
Sadness over the loss of a loved one can carry on over the course of time, sometimes in waves, but it shouldn’t stop a person from enjoying their regular day-to-day activities. If someone is having persistent problems lasting over many years instead of several months, insomnia, bouts of crying, and feelings of intense sadness, guilt, anger, irritability, or loneliness, they should seek medical attention. Depression is a disease, not a frame of mind and should be treated by a professional.
More Simplistic Solutions
Often it’s the little things in life that can make a big difference, especially for those who are growing older. Here’s just a few ways to “get going,” in order to become more cheerful, seem less isolated and alone:
- Get more exercise – obviously most older people can’t perform rigorous cardiovascular exercise routines, instead try something more low key like Tai Chi or Yoga.
- Get online – many older folks are staying in touch with friends and family on the internet, whether it’s emails or networking on social media sites.
- Get a hobby – when we’re no longer working for a living, we need a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning and a hobby can help with this.
While many of us may worry about our aging older relatives, we can do more to help them to feel needed, less isolated and depressed. If you haven’t spoken to your parents in a while, give them a call. Your other older adult relatives would appreciate a visit, a phone call or maybe just an email. Take some time to brighten the lives of those around you and you’ll feel better too.