Depression in Older Adults: Take Back Your Golden Years
By Jason Lewis
Photo by Pixabay
Did you know that there are nearly 50 million Americans over the age of 65? During the “golden years,” many expect to enjoy retirement—traveling, exploring new hobbies and visiting with family—a life free from the constraints of a nine to five career. However, retirement isn’t always so golden for some. In fact, more than 2 million of those seniors are in a battle with depression.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, depression is not a normal part of aging and is a serious, but treatable, mental health condition. Qunomedical lists some warning signs to look out for:
- Trouble sleeping;
- Change in appetite;
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed;
- Social isolation; and
- Loss of energy.
Depression can be treated by talking to your doctor and/or a mental health professional. And there are also ways to improve the quality of your life now, to alleviate the strain of depression and even prevent it from popping up further down the road.
Start walking every day
Walking not only improves physical health, but it has the added benefit of boosting mental health, as well. For older adults, daily walking improves cardiovascular health, boosts energy, reduces arthritis pain and fights weight issues. But your body isn’t the only winner with a walking regimen – your mind wins out, too. Studies have shown that walking can help regulate mood, raise self-esteem and encourage reflection. Walking can also combat social isolation. Walk with a friend, neighbor or family member, or look online for a senior walking club.
Challenge yourself to learn something new
Retirement has many advantages, but there are a few drawbacks, as well – the main one being a reduction in mental stimulation. When you stop working, you stop engaging as frequently with your critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. You can sidestep that scenario by continuing to engage your mind. Learn something new. Take a painting class at your local senior center or a technology class at the community college. Join a book club or take a cooking class. Explore new challenges to excite your mind.
Volunteer your time to a cause
For some older adults, retirement opens up so much free time that they are unsure what to do with themselves. Without the sense of purpose that having a job provides, older adults can spiral into a deep depression. An effective way to take control of your life and reignite that feeling of purpose is to volunteer. There are many ways older adults can have a big impact on the nonprofits in their communities. They can volunteer their time at museums, homeless shelters or by serving on a board of directors. Think about a cause you feel strongly about – if you love animals you can volunteer at the local humane society. You can also consider using your professional skills to help others in need. A retired nurse can help at a free clinic or a retired teacher can volunteer with kids in foster care.
Be open to a new adventure
Adventure awaits all of us that are aging – and you don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to find it (unless you want to.) In addition to a sense of purpose, new experiences top the list of reducing the risk of depression as we age. As you move through the second half of your life, you may begin to feel the weight of your mortality. A powerful way to lighten the load comes with having new adventures. They can be as simple as trying a new restaurant every week to as elaborate as taking a road trip to visit all of the U.S. National Parks. Think big, think small, just think about something that gets you excited and go for it. Start with your interests. For example, do you love history, movies or baseball?
- Planning an adventure to see every historical marker in a 100-mile radius of your home.
- Take a trip to Hollywood to tour movie lots and strut down the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- Go on a roadtrip with a grandchild or a friend to see all of the baseball stadiums in the country.
Don’t let a solo retirement keep you from adventure. Senior travel groups bring people together for adventures at home and abroad.
Aging comes with major life changes, which is sometimes hard to adapt to. That’s why older adults should be aware of the risks, warning signs and preventative measures associated with depression.