Depression and Aging
Summer is in the air. The weather is getting warmer, the sun is shining more each day, and for many people, the new season offers the promise of fun and excitement. These expectations, however, can heighten feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and loss of purpose for people suffering from depression. Especially for older adults, new life circumstances can cause depression to emerge. Life changes like retirement, loss, and health issues can all contribute to depression as people get older.
It may come as a surprise that depression can show up later in life, and it happens more frequently than most would think. Our culture has become enamored with youth, neglecting the beauty and wisdom that comes with aging. Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness tend to arise when a society does not respect the aging process.
Retirement is typically portrayed as a time for people to rest, relax, and do the things that they put off earlier in life when raising families and pursuing careers, but it can also be a major source of stress and anxiety. Activities that once brought joy may start to feel arduous and frustrating due to physical constraints from aging. Loss begins to become a horrible fact of life as people age. Spouses, siblings, and friends pass away, and when grief goes unmanaged it can turn into depression. The American Psychological Association claims, “older adults may also sense a loss of control over his or her life due to failing eyesight, hearing loss, and other physical changes, as well as external pressures such as limited financial resources.” Basic functions, people, and pleasures that were once taken for granted now feel out of control, which can give rise to negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem. All of these emotions can lead a person to become withdrawn or even apathetic.
Depression is not a sign of weakness and it is not a character flaw. It is a disease and it can be treated. According to Dean J. Rotondo, M.D., FPAP, a practicing psychiatrist in Boca Raton, Florida, “In the elderly symptoms of depression tend to be interpreted as a medical illness. After medical illness is carefully ruled out the patient should be evaluated for a mood disorder. This should be the most likely explanation for patients reporting that previously pleasurable activities no longer are.” There are steps you can take to help yourself or a loved one treat the depression. Becoming involved in social groups, like joining a bowling league, getting involved in philanthropic activities, like volunteering at a homeless shelter, and developing a spiritual practice, like practicing yoga, are just some steps that have been proven to improve the mental state of people with depression. Isolation and inactivity only worsen feelings of depression, so the more active you are—emotionally, mentally, and physically—the better you will feel.