Fighting Senior Depression: 3 Ways to Get Over the Hump
|Written by Chris Hawkins|
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Senior Care & Assisted Living
We all feel “blue” every now and then. Depression, however, is feeling consistently sad, discouraged and lacking self-worth for a prolonged period. Some people experience depression for the first time (called late onset) in their senior years, while others have struggled with it for years.
Depression, though, is not a normal part of aging even though it may feel like it. Your body doesn’t work like it used to. You may have a chronic illness. Maybe your spouse has died. These things are inevitable for many seniors.
Pushing through depression and keeping it away takes work. We’ll look at two ways depression can spawn. And three ways—regular exercise, church and volunteering—you can fight depression.
The Creep or The Big Punch?
Depression can creep in slowly or lay you out like an Ali roundhouse. Either way it’s a fight. The depression that punches hard and fast results from a life-changing event such as death of a spouse, major health problem or significant change in environment such as moving to an assisted living facility.
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These events can and should make you feel sad for a while. But if they persist and affect your ability to lead a normal life, there’s a problem.
Slow depression builds for months or even years without you realizing it. Seemingly innocuous events or changes pile on top of you, blocking your once sunnier world. These events can be small health issues, change in routine, and decreased independence among others.
Neither scenario is easy to fight. The life-changing event is just easier to recognize. Either way, there are many ways to back your depression against the ropes and keep it there.
Regular Exercise: Getting Started
There’s a reason exercise is always at the top of lists promoting better lives—it works. Exercise has innumerous health benefits. It improves the quality of life for those with chronic illness. And studies show that seniors who exercise are less depressed than those who do not exercise. It’s like a cheap drug with a better high.
But exercise and the relationship to depression gets a little tricky. The more depressed you are, the harder it is to exercise.
So if you’re depressed, how do you get motivated to exercise? Here are some suggestions:
- Make a pros/cons list of exercising. For example, if you don’t exercise, you’ll continue to be 1) depressed 2) unable to keep up with your grandkids 3) unable to fit into your clothes 4) increase your risk for nasty health issues such as hypertension.
- Tell friends, family and neighbors about your new exercise routine. “I’m starting to walk 30 minutes every day.” Announcing your plans gives you commitment to keep it going. And your loved ones will probably ask you from time to time about your progress.
- Find an exercise buddy. Knowing a friend is waiting for you every morning at 7 to walk around the neighborhood is an extra motivator.
- Reward yourself. If you complete a week of daily exercise, buy yourself a new book, a new outfit, or treat yourself to a dinner out.
Go to Church
Maybe you stopped going to church years ago. Maybe you’ve never stepped foot in one. That’s okay. Church isn’t for everyone. But even if you’ve never been “religious”, a church is a great way to get out of the house and socialize. You don’t have to be a believer to attend. Just go to socialize. If you’re not terribly social, go just for the music.
Pick a church that makes you feel alive and one where you feel comfortable. Some churches are as much about socializing and having fun as they are about spirituality. Many have lively house bands that provide entertainment during services. Others stage elaborate pageants and plays. Most have activities outside of the normal Sunday service such as field trips, picnics, and volunteer opportunities.
If you just need to reconnect with your spirituality, a church can be healing. Many studies have shown the positive benefits of religion and spirituality for seniors whether it’s coping with illness or fighting depression.
A study in the journal Counseling, Psychotherapy and Health, concluded that, “For some, religion can provide a means of coping with the challenges that accompany aging, such as chronic pain, isolation, dependence, and disability.
Helping others gets you out into the community, meeting new people and feeling good about yourself. On top of all that, numerous studies show that senior volunteers have lower rates of depression and live longer and healthier lives.
One study showed that health benefits were gained reaching a volunteer threshold of about 100 hours a year or just two hours a week. Not a bad trade-off for feeling better about your life.
The kinds of volunteer opportunities are nearly unlimited whether you want to work with children, animals, your hands or your mind. Volunteering gives you the chance to do something you are passionate about. Do you love animals? Your local SPCA probably needs volunteers to walk dogs and play with cats. Looking for something a little wilder? There may be a wildlife rescue center in your area.
The largest senior volunteer network is RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) with over 500,000 volunteers across the country. On Seniorcoprs.gov, you can plug in your zip code and area of interest and see what’s available near you.
Not only can these actions get you over the depression hump, they can open up new opportunities for you, and make your life a little fuller and healthier. If you still need convincing, take one of these—exercise, church, volunteering—that you think you could do. Write it down with the potential benefits to your life. Include the physical health benefits, mental health, learning something new, meeting new people, getting off the couch, etc.
Then write down another thing you’re currently doing for a similar amount of time, say watching TV. Compare the benefits of the two. If you still need convincing, Google the benefits of any of these activities.
Updated: Jun 22, 2012