As with most things in life, getting older comes with its good points and bad points. Speaking from a “glass is half full” point of view, getting older means having more confidence in who you are. It means enjoying retirement, traveling and getting a seat on a crowded bus or subway.
But there is also another side of getting older, and that is one of loss: the loss of friends, loved ones, spouses, mobility, memories, hearing, eyesight and subsequent independence.
While our Golden years can be rewarding, if we’re honest, they can also be beyond challenging. While it’s expected to feel sad about the amount of loss we experience in old age, some seniors experience a real sense of despair and hopelessness that turns into chronic depression.
It’s important to distinguish between sadness and depression. Sadness is a normal part of life. It’s important that we give ourselves space to grieve over the loss of loved ones.
But it’s equally important to recognize the symptoms of depression, so you or your senior loved one can seek the help they need. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Sudden issues with sleep – either an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Lack of appetite
- Social isolation
- Irritable mood
- Feelings of hopelessness
For most people, experiencing one of these at a time is not a real issue. The problems arise when two or more items on this list are experienced and persist for several weeks and even months.
How to Get Out of Darkness and Back into Light
There are some things seniors can do (and their loved ones can encourage them to do) that will help them deal with their depression.
Exercise is not only important to keep your body strong and prevent falls, but it’s also important to stabilize mood. As you may know when we exercise our bodies release feel-good endorphins. This can be a natural mood enhancer at any age. Walking is a fantastic exercise for seniors because it is incredibly gentle on the body.
Treat any Insomnia
Sometimes a lack of sleep can bring on depression. And as we age, we can develop sleep disturbances because of hormonal shifts and chronic pain. Also, here’s a bit of information from David N. Neubauer, M.D., author of Understanding Sleeplessness: Perspectives on Insomnia:
“As we age, we typically spend less time in the deepest levels of non-REM sleep (Stage 3 and Stage 4) and more time in the lighter levels. Consequently, older people often suffer from fragmented sleep, waking up more often during the night and early in the morning. In response to these changing sleep patterns, many [older] people develop poor sleep habits that compound the problem.”
So it’s important to go to bed at the same time every night, wake at the same time in the morning, and eliminate any caffeine use.
Seek Help from a Trained Therapist
If these tips don’t alleviate the symptoms of depression, it really is important to get some help from a therapist, who will help you recognize the patterns of depression, and can offer coping strategies.
If you or a loved one would like to explore treatment options, please be in touch with me. I’d be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.