Check out this great article from our friend Joni at Care Improvement Plus! -AGE Blog Staff
May is Mental Health Month, as well as Older American’s Month, making this the ideal time to discuss a topic that is often overlooked—the mental health issues faced by seniors and their caregivers.
Many seniors face difficult changes as they age, and may not realize that their sadness over these changes may be a more serious issue like depression. In fact, late-life depression affects about six million Americans age 65 and older, but only 10 percent receive treatment. Depression cannot only affect one’s physical health; it can also make the sufferer feel sick, with aches, pains and fatigue. Seniors with health problems are especially vulnerable to depression, though it can be caused by many factors, including:
• Health problems like chronic illness, disability, cognitive issues and disease
• Loneliness and isolation from living alone, dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocations, decreased mobility or loss of driving privileges
• Reduced sense of purpose caused by loss of identity due to retirement, physical limitations on activities or loss of a significant other
• Fear and anxiety over financial problems, health issues and the future
• Recent bereavement due to the death of friends, family members and pets
Caregivers may also experience depression, as they put their own physical and emotional needs aside to care for a loved one. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, 40 to 70 percent of family caregivers have shown significant symptoms of depression, and approximately a quarter to one half of these caregivers have been diagnosed with major depression. Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely by as much as 10 years. Feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation and exhaustion—as well as guilt for having these feelings—can add more stress to an already stressful situation.
Though depression can be scary, there are many ways that those suffering can work together with loved ones to successfully treat depression:
• Stay Active: Physical activity has mood-boosting effects, as well as health benefits. Make a point to schedule a walk once or twice a week. The activity will give you something to look forward to, as well as improve your mood.
• Be social: When alone many people have a difficult time maintaining perspective and sustaining the effort required to beat depression. Encourage your loved one to join a local senior activity group or volunteer to help keep them social. These social activities will also help them to feel engaged and reestablish their sense of purpose.
• Seek help: To address mental health issues, consult a physician or mental health professional. To learn more about mental health and obtain general information and support, you can also contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
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