Growing older has its benefits! We get to wake up when we want and load the grandkids up with chocolate and send them home. However, as we all grow older our losses in life seem to sometimes outweigh the gains. Aging comes with several challenges; changes in retirement, loss of loved ones, and less physical capabilities that lead to a loss of independence. Many seniors find the adjustment to the losses become more and more difficult due to a diminishing circle of support. As humans, we are all naturally resilient and can typically find our way through loss and change effectively, but what if we dont? Each loss comes with a period of grief and adjustment, but at times this period can develop into much more than just grief. It can manifest itself into depression and anxiety. Elizabeth Kubler Ross, A Swiss-American psychiatrist and groundbreaking author, identified the five stages of grief as being denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. All of us grieve differently and there is no specific time frame for grief. Those who are grieving are most likely able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and understand that the feelings of grief will likely subside and be easier to manage as time goes on.
Depression, on the other hand, is associated with a level of hopelessness that one cannot fathom overcoming. Those who are grieving may take a break from their regular routine, but typically are able to resume their level of normal daily function; depression often takes over a persons life and prevents them from enjoying activities they once enjoyed. Those suffering from depression have a depressed mood nearly every day with feelings of emptiness, sadness, and hopelessness. Depression affects sleep and appetite, concentration, and is sometimes associated with feelings of death and suicide. Depression in older adults is a growing concern. According to Mental Health America, Individuals age 65 and older make up 13 percent of the population, but 20 percent of all suicides. Thirty-three percent of those who lost their spouse meet criteria for depression one month after the loss and half of these continue to meet criteria one year later.
It is important for seniors to remain active and engaged to prevent grief and loss from becoming depression. As seniors grow older it is more difficult for them to get out of the home and associate with others. If you have an aging loved one, please be mindful of the challenges they may be facing associated with their losses and changes in life. Making home visits, phone calls, and even sending a card to an otherwise isolated aging person can help to lift their mood. If you feel that you have a friend or a loved one who is suffering from depression, there are resources available. There are grief support groups, local mental health centers, and a program specifically designed for aging adults in Iola, KS.
Carrie Fitzmaurice is a therapist with Allen County Regional Hospitals Senior Life Solutions, an intensive outpatient group therapy program designed to meet the unique needs of older adults suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression often related to aging. For more information, call 620-365-1280.