The elderly population is growing at an unprecedented rate. In the United States alone, the population aged 65 and up grew a whopping 33% from 2006 to 2016. However, as those golden years come for many senior citizens across the country, so can feelings of depression and isolation. There are ways to help your senior loved ones overcome loneliness, however.
Why Is Depression Common With Age?
Depression affects those of all ages, but seniors might be at a particular disadvantage. Seniors are at risk for depression due to family history, low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, or traumatic life events, such as the death of a loved one. As seniors age, the loss of spouses, family and friends becomes all too common. Those who are retired can feel a bit lost and unsure of what to do with their time, leading to depression that can become severe if not helped in its early stages.
Certain medication used to treat illnesses that come with age also can lead to depression. It can be very difficult for some seniors to swallow their pride and admit they need help. While depression can strike at any age, the symptoms do not always appear the same. Seniors may appear tired, irritable or confused. It is important to recognize these symptoms to help get your loved one the help they need.
As we age, it is easy to slip into a pattern of loneliness. Even the loss of hearing can lead to isolation. It is important to spend time with those seniors in your life who might be experiencing loneliness, particularly if they previously enjoyed an active social life and craved time with others. Carve out time in your week to have lunch or stop by for a visit.
When you cannot be around, help them get involved with a hobby. If they have friends who cannot drive, offer to pick them up and get them together. If your loved one is in a home, discuss the importance of making connections with the other residents. Unfortunately, elder abuse isn’t uncommon, made all the worse by isolation. If your parent or loved one has close friends and other family members visiting often, this is less likely to happen.
Encouraging a Healthy Lifestyle
Many seniors are stuck in their ways when it comes to the food they consume and how much physical activity they get each week, but health during the golden years becomes more important than ever. Not only are our bodies getting tired and more susceptible to health risks. Data is still forthcoming on the exact reasons a higher mortality rate is linked to isolation. However, experts believe it is due to the lack of help in going to and from necessary doctor appointments and checkups. When symptoms do develop, there is typically no one around to call for help.
Giving Them a Sense of Purpose
We discussed earlier how finding a hobby or a friend can help decrease the risk of loneliness, but it also can give your parent or loved one a sense of purpose. If they find a friend who falls easily, give them a job to call on that friend every morning and evening to check in. Even if your loved one is in a facility, there are tasks they can complete every day that make them feel as if they have accomplished something and are still important to others.
None of us like to experience loneliness. It can cause us to feel sad, isolated and even depressed. During a time when seniors need support more than ever, it is vital to find ways to engage with others and keep your loved ones close. If you are responsible for caregiving for a parent or loved one, help ensure their emotional needs are met along with their physical care.
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