4 Ways to Alleviate Senior Loneliness and Depression
As humans, we strive to live healthily and pursue success and happiness. There needs to be a balance between physical and mental well being. When you think about senior wellness, it’s usually associated with physical health or dementia-prevention, but we often forget that seniors also might struggle with loneliness and depression.
Mental Health America lists some startling facts about seniors and depression in the United States:
- 1 out of 17 Americans aged 65+ suffer from some form of depression
- Seniors aged 65+ account for 20% of all suicide deaths in the United States
- Approximately 68% of Americans aged 65 and over know little or nothing about depression
As we age, sometimes changes occur that might cause us to experience stress and sadness. The transition from work to retirement, the death of a loved one, or the diagnosis of an illness, can all make us feel uneasy, anxious, unhappy and contribute to depression over time. According to Healthline.com, some symptoms of depression are:
- loss of interest in normal activities
- feeling sad, unhappy, or empty
- changes in appetite
- feeling worthless or guilty
- anxiety or restlessness
- difficulty sleeping, insomnia, or sleeping too much
- irrational reactions or angry outbursts
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- thoughts of suicide or death
- unexplained pain
Depression in elderly is harder to identify because they sometimes have different symptoms compared to a younger demographic. Some seniors might have less obvious symptoms than sadness, thus are less willing to vocalize their feelings and doctors might not be able to recognize that they might have depression.
Common depression symptoms in older people are more likely to be:
- Constantly feeling tired
- Having trouble sleeping eg) insomnia
- Grumpiness or easily irritable
Loneliness is also a huge reason depression is common amongst seniors. Social contact decreases as people age, often due to lack of mobility, retirement and other reasons leading to higher rates of senior social isolation. Studies also show that loneliness is a huge risk factor for depression, heightening the sense of unhappiness and worthlessness. Therefore it is important to look out for these symptoms and alleviate them ahead of time for yourself or your loved one.
Nurse Next Door has curated a list of tools and activities that can help alleviate loneliness and depression in seniors and promote senior wellness!
1. Having Hobbies & Learning Something New
Whether it’s continuing a hobby or starting a brand new one, it’s good to have something to keep you enthusiastic and looking forward to on a daily basis.
It’s simple but rewarding when you knit a masterpiece to gift to friends and family. You can knit at home by yourself when watching TV, but it’s also a great social activity! Invite friends over, have some tea and chat as you knit!
Did you know that this martial art was named the perfect exercise for seniors by The Telegraph? This Chinese martial art is supposed to combine increased muscular power and improve heart function, making it a gentle exercise for seniors to maintain good health.
Attending a senior-oriented dance session weekly can have a positive impact on senior wellness. Weekly classes can become a routine and habits can provide a sense of comfort. Dancing is also a social activity, so picking out a senior-oriented class can help with increasing muscle movement and mobility.
They are all the rage right now. There are lots of community choirs that are looking for people to join. If you love singing, it’s a great way to learn how to sing with a group—different vocal ranges like sopranos and tenors all coming together in harmony. Singing has positive psychological effects, it encourages the release of endorphins which are the ‘happy’ chemicals in your brain!
2.Technology, Accessories & Other Resources
We have curated a few stand-out technology accessories that can bring benefits to senior wellness.
Digital home assistant devices like Google Home or Amazon Echo can help with making daily routines simpler with voice activated technology. You can ask the device what the weather is today, to play you your favorite song etc. Read more on “Why a Google Home device is Perfect for Seniors”.
Symptoms associated with depression may include insomnia and anxiety. Weighted blankets are typically 5-10% of a person’s body weight and the sensation of it is having it press down against you into the bed, which has a calming effect. It feels like a hug or a cuddle, which makes your brain physically produce serotonin, which promotes a better mood and a sense of calm. According to Healthline.com, ‘The blankets also simulate deep pressure touch (DPT), a type of therapy that uses firm, hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety’. Weighted blankets have been used for autistic children who experience sensory overload. Studies show weighted blankets reduce anxiety in children and adults. They can help people who suffer from anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, depression etc, achieve a more relaxed and deep sleep.
Weighted blankets aren’t suitable for everyone, however. A senior should consult their doctor prior to purchasing one. Those with ‘chronic health conditions, circulation or respiration issues, temperature regulation problems or those who are recovering from surgery are not advised to use a weighted blanket either’. (DailyCaring.com)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs in the fall and winter. It makes people feel tired, less motivated, sad, and sleep more than usual. Light therapy is delivered through a box or lamp that emits 10,000 lux (a measure of light intensity) that mimics natural daylight. HuffingtonPost states that people who struggle with SAD have been found to have 5% higher levels of a transporter protein that moves serotonin back into the presynaptic neuron which leads to depression. Serotonin is a happiness hormone that embraces your brain you feel successful or important. Those who suffer from loneliness and depression have very low levels of serotonin. Having coffee out in the sun for 20 minutes allows our skin to absorb UV rays that promote Vitamin D and serotonin. However, aging seniors might have mobility limitations that lead to an insufficient amount of exposure in the sun.
Gratitude Practice Apps or Meditation
There are many apps on phones and tablets that serve as a gratitude journal (Gratitude). Journaling and meditating at the start or end of a day allows us to be mindful and grateful of our life. We can think about the people and things we value and how much we can appreciate life. It helps boost serotonin when you’re feeling distressed. Reminiscing and reflecting upon our past achievements and victories can give us a serotonin boost, which is a happy chemical in our brain! (HuffingtonPost)
Friendship Line (800-971-0016)
The Institute on Aging (IOA) offers the Friendship Line, a 24/7, toll-free crisis phone line for people aged 60 years and above. The non-profit organization’s main mission is to help seniors live with dignity and independence, with a focus on senior wellness. ‘The IOA Friendship Line is the only program nationwide in the US that reaches out to lonely, depressed, isolated, frail and/or suicidal older adults. Their trained volunteers specialize in offering a caring ear and having a friendly conversation with depressed older adults.’ (Kerri Pollock)
3. Adopting a pet
Owning a pet promotes unconditional love and companionship, giving seniors a sense of purpose! It also encourages a more active lifestyle and increased social interaction. Nurse Next Door collaborated with Pets For the Elderly and created this video, listing 10 benefits for seniors owning a pet:
4. Family and Friend Support
HelpGuide lists some other tips for helping a depressed loved one:
Be aware of ego interference: They might be too proud or ashamed to admit or ask for help, afraid of becoming a burden to their family.
Prepare healthy meals: Nutritious, balanced meals.
Make time for social activities: It’s important to remain social. Your caregiver can accompany you to the local senior or community center, schedule visits from your family and friends etc. HelpGuide adds that “depressed people often feel better when they’re around others”, so if your plans to hang out are refused, be gently insistent.
Encourage treatment for depression: Seek professional help such as different therapies or medications and be sure your loved one is keeping up with their treatment plan. If the depression is chronic and severe, it’s definitely advised to see a psychiatrist or therapist, counselling alongside prescribed medication might be the most effective way to help with the chemical imbalance in your brain causing the depression.
Follow medication instructions: Be sure to have reminders for medication with the correct dosage and schedule.
Look out for suicide warning signs: If you suspect that your loved one might be suicidal, please seek professional help immediately.
Offer emotional support: Be a patient and compassionate listener and let them know that they are not alone.
We understand that taking care of an aging family member can be incredibly rewarding but it can be emotionally draining and exhausting as well. Looking into hiring an in-home caregiver can allow your loved one to still live in the comfort of their own home with some extra help. The Family Caregiver Alliance had a report finding that showed 40-70% of family caregivers show symptoms of depression!
Our services include respite care and can provide you with a much-needed break right when you most need it. By stepping out of your everyday routine and taking the time to relax, re-energize, and refresh, you’ll enhance your own well-being as well as strengthen your relationship with the person you’re caring for. This can make all the difference in the world. Our caregivers can provide transportation and accompaniment for your loved one to attend classes and socialize or simply companionship to have fun cooking a meal together!
Learn more about how Nurse Next Door’s services can alleviate and help with Mom or Dad’s loneliness, or call us toll free at +1(877) 588-8609 to book a FREE Caring Consult!