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.

For Further Reading:

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May: Mental Health Month

Bea Boomer’s Vital Aging Project – Day 53 – 5/4/15

May is Mental Health month, sponsored by the Mental Health America website. This is a subject that is dear to my heart – not only did my father struggled with an undiagnosed mental illness throughout his life (along with the additional burden of alcoholism); but I’ve suffered from dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder) in the past. 

The theme for this year’s observance is B4Stage4, focusing on early intervention for mental health problems.  

This month, I plan on devoting several posts to mental health topics.  Please help me, along with Mental Health America, spread the word about taking care of our mental health, and helping loved ones when they need it.   

Check out this YouTube video to find out more about MHA’s B4Stage4 campaign. 

Do you tweet?  Please spread the word at Twitter:  

  • May is Mental Health Month #mhmonth2015 Let’s raise awareness! #B4Stage4
  • Don’t be afraid to ask 4 help, get #screened & start the conversation early: mhascreening.org  #B4Stage4 #MHMonth2015

Are you on Facebook? You can create awareness by posting:

(1) Learn the early warning signs.  When you or someone close to you starts to experience the early warning signs of mental illness, knowing what these changes are will help to catch them early. Often times, parents, teachers and mentors are the first person to step in to support a person through these early changes. Learn the warning signs #B4Stage4 http://bit.ly/1Agy9v3

(2) Intervening effectively during early stages of mental illness can save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses. Support @mentalhealthamerica and the #B4Stage4 campaign Get #screened, www. mhascreening.org

Visit the Mental Health America website for more FB and Twitter options. 

 

5 Reasons to Try Meditation for Vital Aging

Bea Boomer’s Wellness Project – Day 20 – 2/18/15

 Asian woman meditating.

(1) Meditation may help us sleep better. At least 40% of Americans don’t get enough of the quality sleep they need to function well (Aschwanden).  Many of these insomnia sufferers are women.  Our insomnia is caused by hormonal changes we face in our lives, such as pregnancy and perimenopause.  Bea is one of those women, and she’s ready to try meditation to get her zzzzzz’s back! 

(2) Meditation relieves stress, and can help those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression. 

(3) Meditation provides other mental health benefits:  an increase in happiness, self-acceptance and awareness, concentration, focus and more – as found in this article from The Art of Living

(4) Meditation can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and even increase energy levels, just to name a few physical health benefits.  

(5) Meditation may help strengthen our aging brain by slowing down the loss of gray matter, as described in this article from the UCLA newsroom.

Source:

Aschwanden, Christie. (Nov 2014). Counting Sleep. Prevention Magazine.

For Further Reading: 

Want to try Guided Meditation?  Bea downloaded a guided meditation album onto her Ipod, but there are free options online as well:  

 UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center 

If you search YouTube, “guided meditations,” you’ll also find some good options.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.medicaldaily.com/mental-health-benefits-meditation-itll-alter-your-brains-grey-matter-and-improve-319298

How to Build Self-Confidence for Vital Aging

 

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 18 – 2/13/15

bea

Bea’s Buzz for Friday:  

How to create a habit of self-confidence

  • Listen to your self-talk – are you calling yourself derogatory names?  Do you kick yourself internally when you make a mistake?  Then ask yourself this question:  Would you call your best friend stupid, or refer to them as an idiot?  If you did, your friendship wouldn’t last.  You have to live with yourself every day.  You need to be your own best friend.  Make a concentrated effort to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Need some help? Listen to positive thinking CDs and read inspirational books. Do some research; find out what it takes to change bad habits.  It won’t be easy, but it will be well worth it. 
  • Create a mind-set of gratitude.  Every night, before bed, think about the things in your life that you’re thankful for. Think about your accomplishments. Focus on the things you did well that day. This is a good way to rid yourself of that negative self-talk.
  • Create success for yourself.  You can do that by accepting failure.  This means taking risks and working toward your goals, even though success isn’t guaranteed.  Those inevitable failures in life are valuable learning experiences.  A failure that results in a “ah-ha” moment is a stepping stone to success in reaching a goal.
  • Take care of yourself, physically and mentally.  Eating healthy food and having a regular exercise program will help you achieve a confidence in your body’s abilities; along with boosting your self-esteem.  To enhance your mental health, take steps to manage stress, get enough sleep, and socialize with friends and family.
  • When conversing with others, make a habit of active listening. We often worry about what others think about us, but when we get to know other people, we find out that they have the same fears.  Listening to others and helping them become more confident boosts our own self-confidence.
  • When facing a situation that makes you apprehensive, such as an important job interview, do your best to prepare and practice, by using online and other resources.  When facing a new situation in life, it helps to research and learn about that situation in order to help you handle uncertainties.
  • Stand up for yourself in an assertive way and hold onto your values. Attempting to live by other people’s values and beliefs, rather than your own, makes you doubt yourself.
  • Finally, stand tall, and walk with a purpose.  Wear clothes that make you feel and look good. When people compliment you, simply say “thank you,” with a smile.  Take time to compliment others.  Don’t take yourself too seriously; laugh at yourself.  Socialize with people who are positive, not those who drag you down. 

Building self-confidence isn’t something that will happen overnight.  But it’s a trait worth pursuing, because it can help us meet life’s challenges with a ‘can-do’ attitude. This is an important key to vital aging.   

  It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. (Attributed to Hanoch McCarty)

 

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. ~Anaïs Nin

7 Ways to Enhance your Mental Health in 2015

Bea’s Wellness Project – Day 6 – 1/16/15

  •  Learn something new. Bea recently decided to learn how to play the keyboard. There was a perfectly good keyboard sitting in her basement, just taking up space. So Bea thought, “What the heck; I always wanted to play the piano as a kid, why not give this a whirl?” So far, she’s gotten the keyboard upstairs and now it’s taking up space in her computer room. Little steps, folks, little steps.
  • Get a good laugh each day – and by good laugh, I mean a belly laugh! We grown-ups just don’t laugh enough. What’s not to like about laughing? It’s good for our mental and physical health, and reduces tension and stress.  At Funnywebsite you can sign up for a daily newsletter.   If you enjoy work humor, try Dilbert.  You can also find some funny boards at Pinterest.
  • Sing in your shower or out loud in your car along with your favorite music. There’s no research on it (or maybe there is, but Bea has never googled it), but it’s simply fun and who the heck cares if people in other cars look at you like your crazy? At least you’re not road raging!
  • Feeling down in the dumps? Give a friend a call!  It seems like more of a woman thing, but friendships are important for men, too. Friendship is good for your social wellness; isolation is bad for our mental health, especially as we age.

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  • Do something kind for someone without them knowing it. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, found in her research that performing acts of kindness promotes social wellness not only in the receiver, but the giver as well.
  • Avoid gloom and doom people (admit it, you know at least one who drives you crazy with their whining) and people who make you feel lousy about yourself. You deserve better.
  • Did you know that being productive can make you happier? Simple things like getting outside in the winter to shovel the snow; planting a garden in the spring, or making a pot of homemade soup can lower stress levels and give us a sense of well-being, according to researchers.

Sources:

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness. 2007. Penguin Press. New York, NY.

Newman, Catherine. Want to be Happier? From Ladies’ Home Journal magazine. July 2011.

For further reading:

How can you improve your mental health and well-being in 2015?

 

5 Ways Caregivers Can Take Care of Themselves

Every airplane traveler hears the same refrain whenever they take a flight. In case of an emergency, always put on your own oxygen mask before helping another passenger. It’s the same when you’re a caregiver, caring for a loved one with a debilitating condition. To take care of others, you first need to take care of yourself.

Unfortunately, caregivers often forget their own needs. They’re so busy taking care of their loved one, they don’t eat right, don’t find time to exercise, and suffer from lack of sleep. They simply ignore their own health. This can lead not only physical health issues, but also mental and emotional health concerns, such as depression and anxiety.

Here are some ways caregivers can nurture themselves:

  • Give yourself a break – If you can afford to hire someone to help you take care of your loved one so you can get time to yourself, do it! If that’s not possible, try to find a family member or friend who can help you out.
  • Get emotional support from others – Talk to a friend or friend if you’re suffering from stress or anxiety about your caregiving responsibilities. If needed, find a support group – ask a medical professional or find one online.
  • Take care of yourself physically – Eat healthy foods, walk or do some other form of exercise. Exercise will help manage stress and the “blues.”
  • Don’t forget your own doctor visits to keep up with your own health and wellness needs.
  • Don’t try to everything alone! You may need to delegate tasks to other family members, especially if you work outside the home. Check into services that are offered in your community.

The HelpGuide website provides some great options and food for thought about caregiving in this article.

The Cancer.net website also points out that if stress and anxiety become overwhelming, you should seek professional help. The article, How Caregivers Can Take Care of Themselves, describes symptoms of depression and anxiety and how to manage these conditions.

This article from the Mayo Clinic website, Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself, also talks about respite care options.

Elderly woman and younger woman work on a jigsaw puzzle together.  Vertical shot.

When Worry Becomes Anxiety: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Worry is a normal emotion which is experienced as anxiety. People worry about finances (or lack thereof), their kids, their health, their jobs. . . Or they worry about the state of the economy, the high cost of living, and so on.  The only people that don’t worry are people with no stressors in their lives, and do you actually know anyone like that?

Me neither.

When once-in-awhile or moderate worrying pops up in our lives, there are some self-help techniques that we can use to help rid us of that worrisome thinking.  But what about worry that develops into extreme anxiety?

When worrying becomes so pervasive in a person’s life that it keeps him or her from functioning well, it can develop into Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  HelpGuide talks about the difference between normal worries and GAD here.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of GAD include:

  • An inability to shake off anxieties
  • An inability to relax – a person with GAD is often easily startled
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Insomnia:  Difficulty in not only falling asleep, but also staying asleep

GAD sufferers may also have problems with fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, aches and pains, trouble swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability and a variety of other physical concerns.  There’s no question that this disorder wreaks havoc on people’s lives.

It should be noted that some physical conditions may cause symptoms of anxiety, including hypo- or hyperthyroidism, low blood sugar, heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)  and even menopause (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2011). If those conditions can be ruled out by a doctor, a person may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

You can find out about the risk factors for GAD at the Mayo Clinic website.

So how is this mental health condition treated?  Prescription medications (certain types of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs) are often used.  While medications may help for the short-term, many have side effects, and can be habit-forming.  It’s best to combine a limited used of medication along with therapy to deal with the root of the anxiety problem.

The most common psychotherapy used for GAD is:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – The patient learns about GAD in order to understand it better.  He/she is taught to monitor their anxiety levels and what triggers their anxiety. He/she is then taught relaxation techniques, thought-changing techniques, and behavioral techniques to deal with the anxiety.

Biofeedback is another treatment option. As described in Wikipedia, “Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofeedback) In the case of GAD, the biofeedback would be used to teach the patient how to become more relaxed.

WebMD also describes some lifestyle modifications that go along with therapy.

Sources:

Mayo Clinic Staff. Sep. 2011. Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Pertinent Websites:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Mayo Clinic: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Tips for coping with GAD