Stop Depression Before It Starts

by Abigail Lewis

For the senior population, staying engaged is a path to better health

While our golden years are envisioned as an idyllic time of leisure and reflection, taking pleasure in family and the simpler things of life, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes an aging parent may become depressed, and while our first instinct is to try to “fix” it, what may be right in the prime of life isn’t necessarily best at all ages. For example, dietary changes or a new supplement may further stress someone with health or stamina challenges. And a trip to the beach may be fun for you and the kids, but make an unsteady older person uneasy.

Serious depression is best addressed with a professional, as there are accompanying health risks, but there are often ways to avert getting to that stage. What passes as periodic depression may simply be disinterest, and stimulation can significantly lift the person’s spirits.

Many older people in isolated or solitary living conditions insist they prefer it, but studies indicate that we humans are social creatures and do best when we’re able to interact with others. Is there a senior center in your town, or a Y? Such places usually offer programs that provide not just companionship, but new ideas.

Some universities offer free or discounted non-credit courses for seniors. OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, supports 117 lifelong learning programs on college and university campuses across the country, with at least one in every state.

There are all kinds of social groups from church groups to Toastmasters, and Meetups for everything from older singles to caregivers and adult children unsure of the next best step for a loved one.

Sometimes that next best step is to facilitate a change of living situation. While an older person may recognize the need for a more supportive structure and ready opportunities to socialize, logistics can be challenging for the support person. Identifying an independent or assisted living community—with regular meals, multiple built-in daily interactions and a range of optional activities—may be the best possible solution for a happy outcome.