Depression in Seniors

Often we sense a sadness among the members of a senior care facility. We might also feel that same sadness around a widow or widower who is living alone. Sadness or an occasional “blue day” is about as normal as those same emotions experienced by a younger person. But when occasional sadness morphs into a longer term condition, the person may be experiencing geriatric depression, a mental and emotional disorder affecting senior citizens.

If a senior citizen is female, there is a higher risk of developing geriatric depression. Other risk factors include being single, divorced or widowed without the support of a social network. Stressful life events may also contribute. Many times seniors are forced into early retirement because of health reasons or even corporate downsizing. Ensuing financial insecurity creates a risk for geriatric depression. Further, as seniors advance in age and develop physical illnesses such as heart disease including invasive procedures for these illnesses, the door is open for geriatric depression.

Seniors who are prescribed powerful medications may find that mood alterations, including depression, are a side effect of the medication. Blood pressure medications, antibiotics, antiarrhythmics and steroids are only a few drugs that may influence mood and cause depression.

One might summarize from the information above that illnesses actually bring on bouts of depression; in other words illness is the cause and depression is the effect. However, that premise was challenged in research conducted by Lynanne McGuire, Ph.D. at the John Hopkins School of Medicine. McGuire and her colleagues findings supported the opposite premise; persistent mild depression in older adults may lower immunity and impair the ability to fight off disease. Depression is actually first cause. It is interesting to note that the length of the depression, not the severity, actually impairs a senior citizen’s immunity. Therefore depression can accelerate immunological declines.

What then are strategies to hold depression at bay, maintain immune strength and hold on to good health as one ages? One strategy involves activity, especially in retirement. Retirement need not be thought of as obsolescence and a rocking chair. Retirement is an opportunity for personal reinvention. Activity includes travel, joining a gym, thinking of all the things that one wanted to do while working but could not. Retirement is the time to do those things if resources are available. Volunteer work is always an option to create a reason to rise early and engage in the world. If, for example, a retiree is a pet lover, they could volunteer at a pet rescue organization. If a retiree is good at working with people who are in need, hospital work is an option.

Another strategy is to conduct a self assessment on lifestyle. Review all life habits such as diet, exercise, sleep patterns, even sociability. Most everyone can make improvements in some areas. As part of retirement reinvention, lifestyle changes can make a difference in attitude as well as mental and physical well being.

Probably the most important self assessment for senior citizen is personal attitude. How much time is spent during a day thinking sad thoughts instead of happy thoughts. Remember, thoughts are choices. How many times during a day are events or situations perceived through the “half-empty” glass perspective instead of the “half-full” glass perspective. Regardless of a person’s age, an occasional attitude adjustment may help ward off mild depression. Laughter is greatly underrated for its therapeutic benefits.

These strategies are suggested to manage mild bouts of occasional depression. If depression persists and is perceived as more severe, professional help should be sought. A trained certified therapist can make a diagnosis, develop a treatment plan and put the senior citizen on a more productive and fulfilling life path.

Copyright © 2015 Directory for Therapists