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Seniors and Depression: Fight It Naturally With Social Engagement

It’s fairly common for seniors to struggle with depression. The aging process brings multiple challenges such as the loss of friends and family members, solitude and physical limitations that can weigh heavily on the morale.  Yet rather than assume that ongoing feelings of sadness and indifference are simply an inevitable part of growing older, seniors, their caregivers and loved ones should recognize that depression can -- and should -- be treated.



Effects of social engagement


While seeking professional help is a key first step, there are also a number of ways that seniors can help themselves with the support of their caregivers and loved ones.  And because seniors, like people of all ages, thrive on staying tangibly connected with the world around them, the most fundamental of these is reducing isolation by creating opportunities for social engagement.

The effects of social engagement are powerful: participating as a member of a community can restore a sense of purpose, leading to a positive cycle of mood improvement and increased optimism.  The ability to “give back” by sharing skills, knowledge or ideas is invigorating.  It bolsters seniors’ self-esteem while restoring the vital sense that they are valuable members of society.

Opportunities for social engagement

And there’s no shortage of opportunities for social engagement.  Volunteer positions with local non-profit organizations supporting the arts and education, or at hospitals and schools, give seniors a chance to take on responsibilities they can feel proud of while building new relationships.  Many schools run “adopt-a-grandparent” programs that bring seniors into the fold of children’s lives.  Churches, synagogues and other faith-based congregations often need ongoing help organizing charitable initiatives.  Community colleges and non-profits offer classes in a variety of fields.

One senior's story

Recently, a senior I work with began showing signs of depression.  He became withdrawn and forgetful, and simply stopped taking his various medications.  Concerned, his son stepped in and invited his senior father to join him at work.  There, the senior helped with daily tasks around the office like making photocopies and maintaining files.  He blossomed, and within a short period of time the renewed sense of purpose he’d found had transformed him, positively affecting his behavior and lifting his mood.

Make changes slowly over time

Of course, change can be difficult.  The best results occur when new steps are taken slowly over time, beginning with small, approachable tasks.  Visit one organization, for example.  Sit in on one class.  Family members and caregivers can offer practical and emotional support, while professionals such as geriatric care managers can help ease a senior into a more socially engaged position by overseeing and coordinating the process and ensuring that all those involved are communicating effectively.

Once the process begins to unfold, it won’t be long before the life-improving effects are felt by all.

 

By Kelley Richard

Kelley Richard is a Care Manager for LivHOME in Houston.  A Licensed Master Social Worker, she has also served as crisis counselor and program therapist at Houston’s Intra Care Hospital and as a clinical social worker at the Houston Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority.  Richard holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin and earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. LivHOME (www.livhome.com) is one of the United States' largest providers of professionally-led, at-home care for seniors.

*This is the first in a three-part series on steps seniors and their caregivers can take to combat depression. Check back soon for part two.

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