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Health And Depression In The Elderly

May 21, 2008
Having lived a happy life full of meaning and purpose, why would an elderly person become chronically depressed? Besides learning the causes of the depression, are there things we can learn about that will remedy this type of depression in senior citizens? The answer is an emphatic Yes!

The medical community deals with people in the throws of depression every day. Many of these people are those who have graduated from college and enjoyed success in their careers for many years until retirement. Many of them have been married and raised children. Everything about their lives suggests that they should be happy as they begin their retirement years.

Senior citizens typically have dealt with many losses as they have gotten older. Many of them have had to bury their spouses, their parents, and their siblings. As they grow older, many of their friends have also passed on. Some have even experienced the devastating deaths of children.

Those who have grown children find that their relatives are often too busy with their own families and careers to visit them or notice how they are doing. Whether these older people realize it or not, their support network has basically disappeared.

All of the deaths of their loved ones cause not only a sense of deep sadness, but also makes the senior citizens realize that their deaths are near. As this awareness settles in, many elderly people begin to take inventory of their lives and their successes or failures.
Regrets for missed opportunities can cloud their thinking and steal away feelings of happiness.

During this time of life, it is typical for senior citizens to have increasing medical problems. Loss of mobility and physical independence creates an atmosphere for the growth of more depressive feelings. Because of poor health, many of these people also become more socially isolated which increases the depression.

Two other things that often feed depression especially in the elderly are poor nutrition and insomnia. These things begin a spiraling vicious cycle. At this point, hopefully there is someone involved with the senior who can help to turn the situation around. Without outside intervention, the elderly person will probably not improve.

If you are involved with someone in this situation, it would be wise to have a physician evaluate the physical and mental condition of that person to encourage improvement. There may be medications that would be helpful with the physical health problems as well as the depression.

Another thing that would be helpful is to encourage this person to become involved in some type of group activities on a regular basis. Most communities have senior citizen centers that offer a variety of things for the elderly to do together. Some of them even offer transportation for seniors to become more socially active. Lunches are quite often available for a minimal cost to the elderly at the senior centers.

Depending on the person's health, it might be good for the senior to volunteer a few hours a week at some organization. This will improve the feeling of being of value in the community.
One thing that has been suggested quite often is for the older person to have a pet. It has been proven to improve blood pressure and heart rate in many people. Loving and feeling loved and needed by a pet is known to cheer people up, especially those who aren't able to get out of the house often.

Encourage your loved one to get involved in a hobby. Perhaps this person used to enjoy a hobby but has recently lost interest in that hobby because of depression. There may be a group in the community that would be thrilled to see what the senior has made in the past. There might even be a group that would like this person to teach others how to do this particular craft.

Most important is to encourage the senior citizen to become involved with other people. If that person is not physically able to leave home, perhaps there are ways to help begin a connection with the outside world through telephone or even the internet. Many seniors have gotten involved with online senior groups with common interests.

Some of these are groups that discuss medical problems, family situations, crafts or hobbies, diet and exercise, and even groups that discuss grief. It might even be easier for the older person to open up to someone they are chatting with online rather than in person. Obviously, it is better to get them out of the house and active socially with others including joining in physical exercise of some type.
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