Is Depression in Old Age Normal?

Bea Boomer’s Vital Aging Project – Day 54 – 5/6/15
I originally wrote this post back in 2011, but wanted to re-post it for Mental Health Month, and to honor my mom, who would have been 100 in March of this year. 
Mom Young
Way back in the early eighties, my mom moved from the house she had lived in for 30+ years to move into a senior citizen apartment complex that had recently been built in her neighborhood.  At the time, I remember her being sad about leaving her home, yet excited at the prospect of starting a “new life” in her apartment.
Mom had fun there: Meeting new friends, having family parties in the community room, dressing up in costumes for the annual Halloween parties, and babysitting her younger grandkids in her compact apartment with its Oriental decor (who knows, maybe in a previous life, she was Asian. In her current life, though, she was a little Polish-American lady who could play the harmonica and fried up a heluva potato pancake).
 
She’d travel to Arizona, alone on a plane, to visit my sister and brother-in-law. On the plane, she’d always meet a new friend.  I was always amazed at how easily she made friends. She’d go on bus trips with her friends or close relatives. She enjoyed her life. 

Fast forward several years.  As old age caught up with her, mom had to move from her apartment to an assisted living facility.  She not only had to give up many of her treasured possessions (there isn’t too much you can fit into a room shared with two other ladies) she also lost her sense of independence.  She grew more dependent on her children and was in and out of the hospital for various complications from heart disease and diabetes.  I can imagine that she felt hopeless and at a loss at how to regain her sense of self.

I remember her saying things like “I don’t belong here; these people are OLD, and they’re all senile! (Mind you, she was around 80 when she moved into the facility.)  I’m pretty certain that every one of them wasn’t senile, but that’s how she saw it.
It took her a long time to adjust. In fact, I’m not sure she ever did. In the back of her mind, she clung to the thought of going back to her old life. I believe she became depressed.  She never really bounced back and became her “old self” again. She suffered even further when her only son, Joe, died at the age of 50, a week after she moved into a nursing facility in Northern Michigan.
 
Of course, I’m no mental health expert, just a daughter who realized that the mom she knew, who used to sing and hum around the house, no reason needed, wasn’t singing anymore. Is it just a “given” that older people become depressed?The Help Guide points out that while depression is not a normal part of aging, it often occurs when older people face major losses or painful changes in their life, such as my mom did.
Older people often become more isolated; health problems may become more prevalent; they may fear death, or may have lost their spouse or other loved ones.  While some people may be more resilient in facing these kinds of problems, others aren’t so lucky. As WebMD points out in its article, Depression in the Elderly, other risk factors include: living alone, being a woman, certain medications for health conditions, living with chronic pain, a family history of depression, and more.
WebMD also indicates that often, the elderly don’t get treatment for their depression. One of the reasons for this is that their symptoms differ from those of younger people who are depressed, so the depression may not be recognized as such. 
I realize now that my siblings and I should have paid more attention to her emotional suffering. We figured, well, she’s being taken care of, she’s safe in this assisted living facility – she just needs to “adjust.”  If we had taken the time to read up on the symptoms of elderly depression, we may have realized she needed more than just time to adjust. We could have gotten her the help she needed. 
My mom’sgolden yearswere diminished by her emotional suffering.  But I think she knew, despite her sadness, that she was loved by her family and friends – particularly her older grandkids, who remembered a grandma that understood them better than their own parents did, and loved them unconditionally.

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2 thoughts on “Is Depression in Old Age Normal?

  1. Wow, very moving, thanks Meen!! I am one of the older grandkids that miss her oh so much. She was alot of fun, a bit of a romantic, and always prayed for me and was there for me. In fact, I always say she was my prayer warrior. Nothing can replace the reassurance of my "Grams" hugs….I know she is happy in heaven with my Uncle Joe.

  2. Yea, Marie Garr was one of the "good ones." I didn't appreciate her enough when she was here on earth! It's good to know she and Joe are watching out for us.

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