Keeping Sights On Seniors

He walked out of the cemetary and towards home. On the way, he passed the hospital and went through the doors to the dining room.  Here he could get a full dinner for $3 and tonight was their meatloaf special. He filled his tray and paid his $3. He sat alone at an eight-person table and no other single diner seemed interested in occupying any of the adjacent chairs at his table. He finished his coffee and depositied his tray. Back on the street and heading for home, he glanced around. There were children playing at the playground, mothers walking with strollers, joggers with their fancy headsets on and the buzz of lawnmowers in the background. A beautiful day; one that would make a person glad to be alive.

Ed wasn’t. He keyed into his home, leafed through the mail that had been pushed through the slot and onto the floor and indifferently turned on the television. He sat there in front of it, if only for the noise of some other being in the house. Eventually he drifted off to sleep and awoke around 2 a.m. Should he change clothes and go to bed? Why bother, he’d just have to get dressed again in a few hours.  He decided to stay right where he was and he drifted back off until daylight. Who would care? Who would even notice?

Like everyone, Ed’s life had some success and some regret but as we age and find ourselves alone, there is a lot more time to concentrate on what went right and wrong and perhaps what we should have and could have done to change that. When the realization sets in that it is a little too late to do anything about that which didn’t go so well, it is very easy for depression to set in.

All people feel sad or unhappy at times during their lives, but persistent sadness may be depression, a serious illness affecting 15 out of every 100 adults over age 65 in the United States. Depression is not a normal part of growing old, but rather a treatable medical illness that impacts more than 6 million of the more than 40 million Americans over age 65.

When depression occurs in late life, it may be a relapse of an earlier depression. If it is a first-time occurrence, it may be triggered by another illness, hospitalization, or placement in a nursing home. Unlike the onset of depression in non-elderly populations, depression in the elderly is thought to be a psychological disorder triggered by specific stressors, such as medical illness. Another causal factor is grief following the death of a loved one.

An estimated 6 percent of people ages 65 and older in a given year, or approximately 2-million individuals in this age group, have a diagnosable depressive illness.

Depression affects approximately 25 percent of those with chronic illness and is particularly common in patients with ischemic heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic lung disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Most disturbing among depression statistics is the fact that depression affects upwards of 50 percent of nursing home residents.

Clinical depression is characterized by symptoms that interfere with the ability to function normally for a prolonged period of time. The symptoms of depression in older adults vary greatly and may include:

  • Persistent sadness lasting two or more weeks
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Withdrawing from regular social activities
  • Excessive worries about finances and health problems
  • Pacing and fidgeting
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Weight/appearance changes or frequent tearfulness
  • Thoughts of suicide or death.

Statistics Provided by the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation

The Following Suggestions are provided by HELPGUIDE.ORG:

It’s a myth to think that after a certain age you can’t learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people of learning new things and adapting to new ideas. Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones.  If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the better you’ll feel.

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