Depression and the Elderly

Post by Jane Bongato. The salient issues of this article were gleaned from informal talks with an 81-year-old woman. Web research augmented the content.

Family, Health, Money, Self-Worth, Death

As elderly retirees, we are apt to be concerned about, and at times depressed over, family or friend situations, health disadvantages, money circumstances, issues of self-worth, and of course, the reality of death. Gee, it seems that we are as concerned with just about the same five things that the rest of the human population wrestles with daily. And as the elderly population presents itself statistically, most of us manage to do pretty darn well. Everybody has up and down days.

Time and Distance Perspectives

Though we elderly retirees do concern ourselves with pretty much the same things as the younger population, there are perspective issues with us that make all the difference – time and distance. And those issues can be the source of depression, sometimes quite severe. Examining these five concerns with the perspectives of time and distance that we experience is important to understanding and finally alleviating that depression.

Five Concerns Prevail

Though we politically aspire to be a one-person-one-vote social organism, there the idea of equality ends. We are not equal mentally, physically, educationally, or financially. Nor have all of us been allowed to wrestle and pin fate to the floor. Some of us retire to a life of overseas cruises, others of us to a life somewhat less luxurious. No matter the life of the retiree, these five concerns prevail. Not a set-in-stone ranking, the concerns are presented in more or less the importance indicated by some research; but since we are all different, importance can differ.

ONE: Family and Friend Situations No need exists to belabor the point that families and their respective lives are as varied and complex as the individuals that make them up. And every imaginable situation can develop as families grow and age. Though the normal western life expectancy floats around 80 years – without much surprise when folk reach 100 nowadays – we are each allowed two real families in a lifetime, our birth families and those we make on our own.

This isn’t a universal truth what with deaths, divorces, foster homes, and the melding of families, but it’s pretty basic. And when those families become dissipated over time, that is a loss with little likelihood of regain or a new beginning. Loss of family can also be incurred due to disconnection. Our mobile society has flung family members around the globe. A phone call isn’t as real as a visit, and absence can lead to neglect of familial or fraternal duty or, even worse, loneliness.

TWO: Health Disadvantages Once again, no need to belabor the obvious, but if we don’t feel good physically, quality of life diminishes gravely, often leading to depression. Mental health concerns can sometimes be as devastating, or more so, than those physical. The health-time issue can be a three-headed hydra: Is it too late to end personal physical neglect, that is, to get in shape? Is it too late to do anything to forestall health problems? Is it too late to do anything to correct existing conditions?

Another consideration might be the amount of time required under medical supervision, therapy, or treatment, and whether or not the time required is really worth it. Mobility becomes a prime consideration when it comes to health care or treatment. Trips to a doctor or to therapy present us with distance problems, even if the distance is only a couple of city blocks away. Another distance issue could concern stretching money or insurance available and how far we want caregivers to push treatment.

THREE: Lack of Money “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is a lot easier.” Everyone has heard similar said in different venues. As elderly people, we don’t have to be rich to be happy. On the other hand, not having enough money to cover the necessities and a little extra can be quite uncomfortable, especially for the less-resilient elderly. We may wonder: What can we do if time or fate or choices have left us with little or no money?

It may be too late to start over again. It may be too late to find financially rewarding work. It may be too late to go back and correct oversights or mistakes. Though hard to conceive in today’s world, some of us elderly folk may not have the wherewithal to get our hands on cash that we may have, simple mobility and distance to a bank or ATM being aggravating factors.

FOUR: Self-Worth This concern has the potential to lead to self-doubt and guilt. Questions may arise. Have I been able to pull off what I aspired to do as a youngster? What is my purpose now that most of my life is behind me? As time passes and we see our chances to do everything we wanted to do with life slipping away, depression can set in. If all hopes haven’t been met, a lack of self-worth can fall into our elderly lives. Feeling unworthy can cause us to distance ourselves from others. Self-imposed isolation can worsen depression.

FIVE: Death Everybody dies – it’s the great equalizer. The elderly have many questions. How soon will I die? Do I fear death? Am I just awaiting death and little else? Will I welcome death when it arrives? Contemplating these great questions can also lead us to depression. No real time or distance issues revolve around the issue of death except concern about when it will come. It is pretty much the same for all of us, young and old. Life offers no guarantees and clocks keep on ticking.

Responsibilities Fall on Us and Our Communities

The retirement years don’t have to be sad or depressing, even under austere conditions. Families and friends need to recognize the potential areas of depression as described above; recognize that these could be trouble spots; and then step in to ensure that we are as happy and carefree as possible. We elderly retirees must understand that retirement doesn’t mean the “last gasp.” We must have an accommodating and welcoming mind to accept change. Once that happens, many things may fall into place and then we can best avoid depression.

Relief Venues

We have many ways of battling post-retirement depression. We could get an interesting part-time job, undertake a hobby, or change locations. Scores of self-help books and websites offer all sorts of effective and creative ploys to ward off depression. We even have options such as making dietary changes, using medications, or approaching therapists. The important thing is to recognize why depression happens; and to get help from others if it does. The idea is to let us, the elderly, feel that we’ll always be loved and cherished, just as the rest of you, young and old, so desire.

Jane Bongato is part of the team behind Open Colleges Australia’s provider of child care training. Jane is an early childhood educator with a background in Psychology and closely works with children who have special needs for about 6 years now. She enjoys reading, painting or meeting friends during her spare time. Photo taken from Flickr.com under Creative Commons.

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