When Marty McFly visited the year 2015 in the second movie of the Back to the Future franchise, flying cars and hoverboards were envisioned as regular parts of society. This film debuted in 1989, when active imaginations often had a heavy influence on descriptions of this “distant future.” For many young adults, it may have felt like this period of time would seemingly never arrive.
Yet, here we are, nearly three decades later and just three years short of completing the second decade of the millennium. While we all understand that time perpetually moves forward, these changes become more pronounced for our elderly loved ones with each passing year and can negatively affect their mental health.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than 7 million Americans over the age of 65 are suffering from depression. The American Geriatrics Society even states that depression is one of the major causes of a decline in quality of life for senior citizens.
While altering time, like Marty and Doc Brown, may not be a viable option, there are preventive measures that seniors and family caregivers can take to avert these feelings of depression. Psych Central offers suggestions for seniors to break free from depression and continue living a happy and healthy life.
1. Treat Depression Individually
Depression becomes a complicated issue to treat in seniors as it can often be associated with a chronic illness. For example, Parkinson’s disease affects brain chemistry and may exacerbate depression symptoms.
Dr. Karen Swartz, M.D., Director of Clinical Programs at Johns Hopkins Hospital, emphasizes that it is important to avoid focusing on physical ailments and neglecting proper treatment of depression. Both the illness and depression must be treated equally and aggressively. It is important for seniors to establish clear communication and cooperation between their doctor and mental health provider.
2. Moderate Alcohol Intake
Some seniors may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with loneliness or chronic pain. This method provides fleeting results, as the alcohol will often increase depression after the buzz subsides. Furthermore, combining alcohol with drugs, such as sedatives, can be a lethal combination.
Drugs and alcohol can also interfere with other necessary medications. Substance abuse will only further complicate issues and it is important for seniors to moderate their alcohol consumption when fighting depression.
3. Exercise Regularly
Ailments such as osteoporosis and arthritis can cause chronic pain or reduced mobility for seniors. These conditions may increase the risk of a fall which can lead to injury-induced depression.
It is important for seniors to understand the benefits of exercise as a preventative measure. Yoga and martial arts such as Tai Chi are great ways to enhance the coordination between body and mind and improve balance. Strength training with free weights or resistance rubber bands can also benefit the body while simultaneously inspiring confidence and positivity.
According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, seniors who exercise regularly experience fewer declines in quality of life, are less lonely and are more likely to maintain independence.
4. Conquer Insomnia
Some seniors may suffer from fragmented sleep and wake up numerous times throughout the night. This process may alter resting patterns and formulate negative sleep habits. Research has shown that 80 percent of people who are depressed experience sleeplessness.
It is important for seniors to address sleep problems immediately and practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and seek to reduce or eliminate caffeine intake.
5. Grief vs. Depression
Losing a loved one, particularly a spouse or close relative, can be an extremely disheartening experience for seniors. Grieving is a normal part of the recovery process and often comes in waves, with varying degrees of intensity. However, it is important to understand the fundamental differences between grief and depression.
Grief will generally resolve itself, and seniors can still find enjoyment in other aspects of life. Depression is persistent and will make seniors feel as if they are progressing through life with no purpose.
This guide from Help Guide can help you recognize depression in seniors. If your elderly loved ones exhibit signs of depression, seek assistance immediately to prevent these emotions from spiraling into potential alcohol abuse or poor dietary and sleep habits.
6. Carry Photographs
UCLA psychologists have discovered that photos of loved ones and family can help alleviate mental and physical pain for seniors, and these cherished memories can help thwart feelings of depression. As a family caregiver, you can assist this process by regularly providing new photos, especially of young grandchildren, nieces or nephews.
7. Make Friends and Maintain Relationships
Losing friends and family is a natural part of aging, which is why it is important to continually develop new relationships. Studies have shown that seniors with strong social networks are more resilient to depression and anxiety.
By joining a local club or volunteering, seniors can develop strong, personal connections with others that share similar interests. There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people and The Huffington Post has even developed a guide for making friends as a senior.
If reduced mobility or bad weather makes face-face-interaction difficult, the internet is a fantastic way to remain connected. A study issued by the Phoenix Report states that spending time online reduces depression by 20 percent in senior citizens.
Check out this other helpful blog from Stannah and discover the benefits of new technology and how family caregivers can introduce it into the lives of their elderly loved ones.
8. Find a Sense of Purpose
Having a sense of purpose is crucial in preventing depression as a senior. The size of your worth is not important, nor does it have to require a significant commitment of time, energy or money.
Having a purpose for waking up each morning can serve as motivation for seniors to get through each day. Simple things such as spoiling grandchildren with ice cream or starting a recycling campaign for their condominium complex can provide a sense of purpose and stop the onset of depression.
9. Maintain Independence by Understanding Your Options
Seniors are faced with many tough decisions as they age. Bad eyesight may render them incapable of driving, or a nagging injury may limit their mobility. These ailments may cause some seniors to feel as if they have lost control of their lives.
It is good practice to embrace the independence that is still available. From something as small as choosing a brand of toothpaste to deciding which activities to pursue, there are always a variety of choices that need to be made. By taking inventory of these options, seniors can regain a feeling of control and prevent depression.
For example, a senior suffering from limited mobility has the option to install a Stannah Stairlift with minimal modifications to their home. These stairlifts allow seniors to safely traverse their stairs and continue participating in the activities they love. Maintaining this sense of independence can have a lasting impact in conquering depression.
For more information, please click the “Our Stairlifts” tab above.