If you’re a senior citizen and often feel a sense of emptiness or hopelessness, then you may be suffering from depression. These feelings are not normal factors of a healthy aging process. They are symptoms that demonstrate that something is adversely affecting your emotional well-being. Fortunately, there are various techniques you can employ to help to increase your happiness and prevent depression from resurfacing as often.
As you age, various events occur that contribute to decreased happiness and contentment. Some of these include the loss of loved ones, reduced physical abilities, acute or chronic health disorders, challenges of maintaining financial stability, and regretting not having fulfilled certain dreams. However, these are normal factors of life that most people cannot avoid.
This article looks at how independence helps to prevent depression in elderly people. Some techniques for increasing your independence are reviewed, as well as some techniques and tips for dealing with depression when it does surface.
Can Independence Prevent Depression in the Elderly?
One of the most common reasons that elderly people report as a source of their depression is the loss of independence that aging has brought them. After long lives of being able to take care of themselves and others, some elderly people find themselves unable to perform mundane tasks like bathing, eating, or even using the restroom.
When a previously-independent person is faced with the inability to take care of herself, then she may likely feel embarrassed. She may not be able to face being looked at as “less than” she used to be by her loved ones, friends, colleagues, and even strangers. It isn’t difficult to see how this could contribute to decreased well-being and depression.
However, there is hope! Let’s get familiar with some of the more common signs and symptoms of depression. Learning about what ails us empowers us to fight back, and thereby regain some of the lost control in our lives.
Signs & Symptoms of Depression
In both younger and older people, depression has some common symptoms. These include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or anxiousness
- Excessive feeling of pessimism, cynicism, hopelessness, or anger
- Regular feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, or shame
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, including sex
- Sleeping too much, sleeping too little, or waking up repetitively during sleep
- Feeling “blue” under the surface, even when surrounded by others who are happy
- Frequent complaints of physical ailments like muscle aches, nausea, headache, etc
Some other common symptoms of depression in the elderly include chronic fatigue, withdrawing from social activities, decreased appetite, preoccupation with the past, suicidal thoughts, inability to focus, forgetfulness, anger, irritability, or frequent crying for no apparent reason.
Now that you understand some of the most common depression symptoms, you’ll be able to spot them easier if they are trying to make their ways into your life. Knowledge is power!
Grief vs Depression vs Masked Depression (Pseudodementia)
Before we review some of the most effective techniques for battling depression in the elderly, it’s worth noting the difference between grief, “true” depression, and “masked” depression or “pseudodementia”. Let’s take a look at the differences:
- Pain and sense of extreme loss, especially when related to a loved one’s death
- Can have emotional, physical, social, cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual effects
- Normal and temporary part of life during times of major change
The grieving process is commonly broken down into five components follows: 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and 5) Acceptance. It is a natural set of responses to loss
- Often confused for grief and therefore misdiagnosed by doctors
- Normally subsides and improves naturally after feeling the “blues” for a few days
- Can spiral into depths that are no longer treatable
- Not a healthy factor of aging
Masked Depression (pseudodementia)
Masked depression or pseudodementia is a condition marked by a patient denying being depressed, but really is. They might regularly complain about various other ailments besides depression; like bone and joint pain, headache, nausea, and other aches and pains that typically do not respond to treatments.
Masked depression often causes adverse cognitive effects like difficulty concentrating or remembering. This is why the condition is often misdiagnosed as dementia, and why it is sometimes called “pseudodementia”.
When the cause of true depression is successfully treated in someone with masked depression, and the depression symptoms are alleviated, then the masked depression symptoms also are alleviated.
Now let’s look at the main issue with maintaining independence with aging. Hint: it’s the danger of falling.
Elderly Independence vs Safety
One of the biggest problems elderly people face in terms of maintaining their independence is the risk of falling down. In 2017, Polish researchers reported that:
Nearly 30% of elderly people are affected by falls every year
Falls are a primary cause of major injury in the elderly
33.7% of fall victims have an unsteady walking gait
25.7 of fall victims use mobility aids for walking
The main determinants of falling are caused age, previous history of falling, poor foot health, poor vision, chronic pain, urinary incontinence, poor mood, lack of quality health care, and sleeping disorders. The risk of falling also is increased in elderly people with depression.
It follows that developing a standard protocol for fall prevention would likely lead to increased independence in some elderly people. In other words, if you fall down less often, your independence can be increased, which can help to alleviate depression.
Maintaining Independence with Aging
According to the University of West Virginia, “A common pathway to depression in older adults, regardless of whether predisposing risks are biological, psychological, or social, may be a curtailment of daily activities. Accompanying self-critical thinking may exacerbate and maintain a depressed state.”
So, what are some ways to maintain independence with aging, and thereby reduce the chances of depression? Some of the recommended approaches include:
- Eating more water- and nutrient-rich foods, like green leafy vegetables
- Getting out in the sunshine and breathing fresh air
- Exercising to the extent of your abilities, even if very limited
- Avoiding tobacco and alcohol
- Minimizing the use of prescription medications
- Engage in a new hobby like walking in nature, yoga, or painting
- Keeping a positive mental attitude
The bottom line is that the more independence you have as you age, the less you have to rely on others. Having to call on a loved one for tasks that used to be mundane is not fun for anyone, and can lead to embarrassment, feelings of helplessness or of being a burden, and subsequently,
It is true that more independence can likely mean less depression in most people. However, you can’t force independence by your willpower alone. That’s why it is so important to continue working on your health and fitness, even and especially into your Golden Years.
Utilizing common sense health improvement techniques makes excellent sense for all people, young and elderly. Doing so will not necessarily guarantee your continued independence, but it can and will help to keep your confidence levels up, and beat depression down when it tries to surface in your life.