by Eunice K. Neubauer, CSA
Depression prevents you from enjoying life like you used to. But its effects go far beyond mood. It also impacts your energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health. However, depression is not an inevitable part of aging, and there are many steps you can take to overcome the symptoms, no matter the challenges you face.
Some of the symptoms common to both depression and Alzheimer’s are the following:
- Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities and hobbies
- Social withdrawal
- Memory problems
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Impaired concentration
Never assume that a loss of mental sharpness is just a normal sign of old age. It could be a sign of either depression or dementia, both of which are common in older adults and the elderly.
Since depression and dementia share many similar symptoms it can be difficult to tell the two apart. Whether cognitive decline is caused by dementia or depression, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
It’s a myth to think that after a certain age you can’t learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people of learning new things and adapting to new ideas. Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones.
If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the better you’ll feel.
- Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. The best part is that the benefits come without side effects. You don’t have to hit the gym to reap the rewards. Look for small ways you can add more movement to your day: park farther from the store, take the stairs, do light housework, or enjoy a short walk. Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
- Connect with others,face to face whenever possible. Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. You may not feel like reaching out, but make an effort to connect to others and limit the time you’re alone. If you can’t get out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or email. And remember, it’s never too late to build new friendships. Start by joining a support group for depression, a book club, or another group of people with similar interests.
- Bring your life into balance.If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and the pressures of daily life, it may be time to learn new emotional management and emotional intelligence skills.
Other self-help tips to combat and prevent depression in the elderly
- Get enough sleep.When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- Maintain a healthy diet.Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, and take a daily multivitamin.
- Participate in activities you enjoy.Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.
- Volunteer your time.Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.
- Take care of a pet.A pet can keep you company, and walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.
- Learn a new skill.Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.
- Create opportunities to laugh.Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.