Aging With Choices

Aging With Choices - Loneliness, Depression

with Melanie Richardson, Senior Resource Specialist

My grandmother Georgia had a neighbor named Nadia who we rarely ever saw outside of her home, except when she would schlep out in her housecoat in the middle of the day to collect her mail.  Grandma used to say that Nadia was going to die of loneliness.  I never really understood what she meant by that until years later when I began my career in senior care.

family_caregiverIt has become common for my colleagues and me to meet a new Nadia almost every week.  The truth is that many of the seniors that we work with to move into retirement or assisted living communities often do so because of some sort of event that has occurred in their life.  In most cases, the event is associated with some sort of loss.  A loss of a spouse, their ability to drive, to take care of themselves independently or perhaps some other traumatic event.  During times like these it is human nature to want to retreat and spend time reflecting on their own health….and in many cases…they worry about what will become of them.  Research into the attitudes and behaviors of seniors suggests that their anxieties are related to future adverse health conditions and those anxieties can actually cause those conditions to arise.  The retreating and isolation will begin to shrink the seniors’ world.  There is a natural tendency to focus on the limitations of one’s life and all of the obstacles that aging presents.  When sadness turns to depression, they are headed for trouble.

If your senior loved one spends an inordinate amount of time sleeping or sitting in front of a television, they could in fact be depressed.  There has been ample research to demonstrate the mind’s capacity to influence one’s health – both positively and negatively.  If left unchecked, depression and despair can inhibit recovery from illness, lead to hopelessness and even ultimately lead to premature death.  Ken Wells in the Rand study at UCLA found that 50 percent of all depressed people are over the age of 65.  He studied depressed vs. non-depressed seniors and found that depressed seniors use 4 times the amount of health care dollars than non-depressed seniors.  For example, depressed people tend to lie around all day and don’t get up.  This inactivity makes them susceptible to dehydration, malnutrition, urinary tract infections and pneumonia, which if left untreated can lead to kidney failure and death.

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