For Aging Adults, Depression Does Not Need to Be Part of the Picture

For Aging Adults, Depression Does Not Need to Be Part of the Picture

(ARA) - Depression does not go hand in hand with aging. In fact, older adults who are able to stay engaged in day-to-day living and find simple joys to fill their days can go a long way toward avoiding the debilitating effects of depression.

As Dr. Kathie Bates, associate professor of psychology at Argosy University/Tampa explains, "Positive activities and experiences for older adults should be a part of each day, and they can be as simple as enjoying watching birds outside the window, to more effortful pastimes such as finishing a craft or household project." The key, says Bates, is to accomplish small tasks successfully and put aside more difficult ones until they no longer seem so challenging.

The best way to find out what makes an older adult happy is to be a good listener. "Listening to the person's concerns and providing support rather than advice or ultimatums generally has a more positive influence," she says.

According to Bates, listening includes identifying what an older adult is concerned about as well as what they would like to be doing to feel better, rather than imposing a family member's ideas and values on the person. For example, an individual who has led a rather solitary life is more likely to respond to an offer to pick up a book on tape for them from the library than an offer to take them to a senior center for bingo.

As adults age, they experience a loss of roles (for example, being the Mom or Dad), loved ones and sometimes physical capabilities, and with these losses there is often understandable sadness. But, says Dr. Lynn Horne-Moyer, director of clinical training and associate professor at Argosy University/Atlanta, "most older adults adjust to these difficulties relatively quickly."

When older adults do become depressed, they often express it differently than younger adults. They may complain of fatigue or lack of interest in usual activities rather than displaying tearfulness or crying. For these reasons, depression is often under-diagnosed because its symptoms can overlap with those of other illnesses that become more common in late life.

The most common signs of more serious depression, according to Horne-Moyer, are sadness, irritability, hopelessness, worthlessness, dropping activities, pessimism or a preoccupation with death. All of these, she explains, should be treated very seriously and aggressively, with a mental health professional contacted immediately.

Unfortunately, many older adults feel that there is a stigma attached to seeking help -- even through support groups. According to Bates, mental health services designed solely for older adults are rare, which may further discourage them from seeking help. For mild levels of depression, psychotherapy, support groups, or both together, can help in avoiding the need for medication. Once the depression symptoms reach a severe level medication is often needed.

There is some research to suggest, Bates adds, that the way in which older adults cope with the challenges of aging may be best predictor of how susceptible they will be to depression. Individuals who stay flexible and adapt to their changing needs fare better. In fact, positive planning for retirement, which includes activities and interests to focus on, as well as staying an active and involved member of the community, can be very beneficial to healthy aging.

With the right support systems in place, most older adults can find considerable joy and satisfaction in this new stage of life. Here are several expert recommendations for helping older adults live happier, healthier lives:

* Family connections are most important for most adults, including a spouse, and children and siblings. Extended family plays a more vital role in minority families, with more help provided by elders and for elders within the family.

* Physical activity/exercise has been shown to be helpful in combating depression for those who are able to do so. A medical doctor should always be consulted before beginning any exercise program.

* Avoid excessive TV viewing.

* Local area agencies on aging are a good source of information for older adults and their families. They can provide lists of resources available for at-home care, food delivery and companionship. In addition there are local senior centers, hospitals and wellness centers.

* Private case management services offered by social workers in many communities, and counselors and therapists may be located through state psychological associations, counselor associations and associations of social workers.

Courtesy of ARA Content