LIMA — Depression has a way of sneaking up on people after the holiday season, regardless of their age. For senior citizens, however, depression can manifest itself in different ways than in their younger counterparts.
“Right now is a very tough time for a lot of seniors because they had family around on Thanksgiving, Christmas and even New Year’s,” said Gerry Burton, senior service resource specialist with the Allen County Council on Aging. “But now, family is going home because their family no longer lives in the Lima area. They may live two or three hours away. So they’re not able to get home and check on Mom and Dad.”
Even if friends and family members live close and are able to visit, depression warning signs may go undetected — if they don’t know what to look for.
In many ways, seniors experience depression the same as their younger counterparts, said Judy Jacomet, information and referral specialist with the ACCA. Some signs of depression can include:
• Changes in eating or sleeping habits
• Fatigue or apathy – being tired or not caring about things
• Indecisiveness or trouble concentrating
• Crying for no apparent reason
• Inability to feel good about themselves, or express joy
• Withdrawal from family, friends or social activity
• Loss of interest in things or activities they previously enjoyed
• Loss of interest in personal appearance.
“These are changes that make people feel like they’re not themselves,” Jacomet said. “If they notice something else that just wasn’t like what they were used to.”
One difference with depression in seniors is that it can often be expressed through constant complaining, explained Mary Lou Paisley, LPC, wellness coordinator with Senior Center Services Inc. in Lima.
“I see that a lot more often in seniors, especially when they get up into the 80s,” she said. “Being depressed was not socially acceptable, and you never talked about that. You just healed your problems. And maybe you would talk to your minister about that, but that would be just about it. But otherwise, you kind of pull up your bootstraps and go on. But the way that I see that come out, often, is just being very critical. You just can’t do anything to please them.”
Another generational difference is to whom feelings of depression are divulged. Older seniors are probably more likely talk to their physician or a minister about their feelings of depression, Paisley said. Younger generations, on the other hand, are more apt to talk to their friends.
“You’re talking about the greatest generation that ever lived,” Burton said, of seniors in their 80s or older. “About a generation that grew up during the Depression, who did without a lot of things. You’re talking about a generation who fought World War II. You’re talking about a generation who literally built the infrastructure of the United States — everything from the highways, to the grids, to buildings. So yeah, they’re very proud. They don’t want to talk about their feelings. They don’t want to talk about not having enough money to do different things they like to do, or even bills, or having enough money for food.”
Because depression is a serious medical condition, two of the best places to begin for help is with a doctor or a therapist. In addition to medication or therapy, social contact can be beneficial for mental health, Paisley explained. This can mean joining a local organization, getting coffee with friends or volunteering in the community.
“When you are by yourself in your house and your world gets so small, little things, I think, tend to really bother you — such as your gutter is leaking,” Paisley said. “Those of us who are out and involved with other people don’t have that much time to think about those things. But when that’s all you have to do all day, and you’re by yourself all day, those things get pretty large and overwhelming.”
The ACCA offers transportation services to seniors who might be reluctant to drive in winter weather, or who simply require help getting out for errands, appointments and more.
Physical activity can also be helpful for seniors who feel themselves slipping into a state of depression.
“With any kind of depression, whether you’re older or younger, activity feels better,” Paisley said. “It doesn’t have to be exercise. But those things that raise your heart rate a little bit seem to help.”
Senior Center Services offers a gym, a pool and a wide range of fitness activities and sports for its members, Paisley noted. The senior center also provides social opportunities, such as trips, playing cards or special interest classes, too. Memberships are available to people starting at age 50 or older.
“There is so much loss for people who are older,” Paisley said. “If they live an especially long time, they lose their spouse, they lose their friends. They often have to leave their home and go into assisted living. They lose what physical abilities that they have … there is so much loss. It would be hard for any of us.”