Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mental Health and Aging: Managing Loss

 I'm Blogging for Mental Health. 

Aging can be daunting.  We often experience considerable loss as we get older.  Some losses might be observable, such as a loss of mobility or significantly diminished cognitive functioning.  Some losses may be less obvious, such as the loss of independence one feels when he or she cannot do all of the things that he or she could once do.  While depression is not be a normal part of growing older, the life changes and losses that older adults experience could lead to one feeling depressed.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression is more prevalent in individuals who suffer from other illnesses or who have limited functioning (    

Some symptoms associated with depression are:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • A loss of interest in things that one used to enjoy 
  •  Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Appetite changes or changes in weight
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping 
  •  Fatigue or low energy 
  •  Problems concentrating   
  •  Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation

Notably, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “In 2010, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old.  The second highest rate (17.6) occurred in those 85 years and older” ( 

Fortunately, there is effective treatment for depression, and older adults can benefit from this treatment.  Participating in psychotherapy, taking antidepressant medication, or utilizing a combination of both treatment modalities can lead to symptom reduction.  However, older adults might not realize that they are suffering from depression.  Furthermore, they might be opposed to receiving mental health treatment because they think that those who receive such treatment are crazy, and they do not need such treatment.  Therefore, it is important to approach this subject with older adults gently.   

For family members and friends of older adults, recognizing the symptoms of depression is just the first step.  Letting them know that while we, as younger persons cannot truly understand what they are going through because we have not done so, we can appreciate the changes and challenges that one experiences as he or she ages.  It is important to discuss the changes and losses that our older adult relatives and friends have and to validate their feelings.  Explaining that depression is a type of illness like other illnesses that they might be experiencing could lead older adults to be more accepting of mental health treatment.  

Other ways to help with low mood can include:
  • Exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Socialization
  • Active lifestyle
  • Meditation
  • Volunteering

Caring for an older adult can be stressful and lead to depression, if one does not have adequate resources to cope.  Therefore, in addition to paying careful attention to the older adult for which one is caring, it is important for the caregiver to be aware of any symptoms of depression he or she may be experiencing and seek treatment for these symptoms. 

National Institute of Mental Health:

Medline Plus:

The Voice of Women 40+

Guest Blogger: Michele Evans, Ph.D.