by Janice Walton, PhD ~ December 4th, 2008
Treatment for depression in the elderly is generally focused on a single approach rather than a comprehensive one. Physical or mental treatment options abound in the literature, and the old adage “seeing is believing,” may be changing to “believing is seeing,” which leads us to consider the spiritual and emotional aspects of depression.
Louise Hay, the well-known author and motivational speaker, in her book You Can Heal Yourself, equates certain diseases to psychological problems. For example, she says cancer is a result of buried resentment and depression a result of prolonged hopelessness. If Hay is right, a person’s mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being is as important as the person’s physical state. It just makes sense. If one area of a person’s life is out of kilter, it has to somehow affect their physical, mental, spiritual or emotional well being.
In order to get things back on track, the whole person has to be considered and evaluated. The best way to do this is to embrace a holistic approach, and, so, I wanted to provide ideas for caregivers to use to improve all aspects of an elderly person’s life because I believe a comprehensive, holistic approach will produce the best results.
The old adage “you either use it or lose it” is true, and from my experience losing it leads to depression, particularly if the loss is related to physical abilities. When people do not have the ability or freedom to do what they use to do or to get around as they use to do, family members may notice persistent and vague complaints and requests for help, as well as, frequent phone calls, irritability, and demanding behavior. Here are some ways you can help your loved with their physical aspects:
- Ensure Three Healthy Meals a Day. Single, elderly people may not be motivated to fix meals for themselves, so, in order to ensure a person is getting adequate nutrition and a well-balance diet, it may be necessary to plan three healthy meals ahead of time. If help is needed, seniors can often qualify to receive at least one meal from Meals On Wheels (click here to learn more about this nationwide service).
- Establish an Exercise Routine. Exercise is important for a variety of reasons. It lifts moods, increases strength, improves balance, reduces injuries and falls, and enhances mobility. Exercise can include walking, tai chi, stretching, or yoga. Joining a health club is also beneficial because it adds a social aspect to exercise. If such routines are too strenuous, encourage the person to sit in a chair or on the bed and do stretching exercises. The National Institute of Aging offers information for a beginning stretching program, and they also answer questions about exercise safety. Click here to learn more.
- Keep Them Busy. Help your loved one find interesting hobbies and projects. Remember Grandma Moses was in her seventies when she began her art career, so, it’s never to late to start something.
- Lighten Things Up. Anyone would be depressed if the surroundings were dark, messy, and cramped. Make sure the surroundings are light, clean, and cheerful. Open curtains, clean up, and make beds.
- Schedule a Massage. Massages feel so good, and they’re great to relax “up-tight” muscles.
- Suggest Regularity and Routine. A regular schedule is important because it gives structure to a person’s day. Routine can be achieved by encouraging the person to go to bed and rise at a regular time. You can also encourage the person to get dressed and look nice each day, which in turn encourages a person to feel better.
Thoughts influence feelings and behavior. Thinking negatively and dwelling on the cup half empty leads to depression. In fact, according to author and organizational systems specialist, Douglas Walton, PhD, “Research has shown action creates emotion. The more you smile, the more happy you are, not the other way around as is commonly thought. Depression is a state of mind where one tends to focus on being depressed and thus becomes even more depressed.” Ways you can help improve mental attitudes include:
- Focus on What the Person Can Do. One way to accomplish this is to ask. If the persons says “I can’t go water skiing any longer,” find something the person can do. Bowling? Hiking? Walking?
- Keep a Journal. Encourage the person to keep a journal because writing allows a person to express feelings and hopes.
- Visit AARP. AARP has thousands of ideas and information for people over fifty, so check their site and see what ideas AARP might offer by clicking here.
- Monitor Self-talk and Use Affirmations. What people say to themselves and to others, indicates their thinking. Thoughts are the precursors to beliefs and actions, so monitor what they say, and help them form more positive comments and attitudes.
- Read and Play. Playing mental games such as crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, Suduko, and computer games keep minds mentally alert and active. Click here for some online puzzle games.
- Take Computer Courses. Help the person enroll in a computer class. For instance for a flat $20.00 fee, Virtual University offers numerous, short courses at Virtual University.
Ultimately, people yearn for peace of mind, which frees them from depression. Peace of mind can be achieved in numerous ways, and it’s not achieved from outside but from within. Sometimes people don’t know that or they forget, so as a caregiver you can encourage the discovery or rediscovery of peace. Ways you can encourage a renewed spiritual attitude include:
- Attend Church or Pray. By encouraging attendance at church a person can receive social benefits, as well as peace. Moreover, prayer seems to benefit people in unexplained ways. To learn more about prayer, read The Power of Prayer.
- Dwell On the Positive. One way you can help people accomplish this is to have them write down one positive thing they experience each day. It can something as small as, “I heard a bird chirp.” Another idea is to get a counter or a clicker, and every time they think of something positive in their life, they adjust the counter or make a click. This helps the person to realize positives do exist, and it is a known fact that whatever a person focuses on expands.
- Encourage Acceptance. Help the depressed person understand that accepting reality frees him or her from worrying and from dwelling on the negative. In addition, once they do that, they can focus on what to do and become actively involved in solving their own problems.
- Find Out What’s Exciting. Everyone needs to embrace the small stuff, and everybody has something that recharges them. Help them figure out what gives them a reason to be excited with life.
- Find Things They Can Appreciate. Everyone can learn to appreciate the little things. One way to do this is to have the person create a list of things to be grateful for and post it on the refrigerator. Appreciation helps remind people of the many blessing they enjoy.
- Suggest Meditation. Meditation helps a person relax, relieves stress, and encourages peace. Learning how to meditate is easy because all you do is put aside your thoughts and focus on your breathing.
Emotions are known to cause disease. Dr. Andrew Weil, noted author and lecturer who approaches health from a holistic standpoint, talks frequently about how emotions affect a person’s health and well-being. Hay also notes that longstanding emotional problems cause heart problems, and many people are aware cancer is often linked to long-standing resentment. Here are five ideas to boost a person’s emotional life.
- Encourage Participation in Group or Individual Therapy. Find a neutral person to discuss fears and sadness because he or she may provide insight and new ideas. A word of caution, make sure it is a therapist who has experience in working with the elderly, as elderly issues are often substantially different than younger people.
- Find a Senior Citizen’s Center. Senior Citizen centers are everywhere, and they offer numerous activities, such as exercise classes, quilting bees, cooking events, parties, and other events. Additionally, most Senior Citizen Centers will also pick up and drop off the person if they need a ride.
- Pets. Elderly people can sometimes be lonely, and a pet provides companionship. Additionally, if the pet is a dog, there are other bonuses: It can encourage the owner to exercise and people who walk their dogs often meet other people, which gives them a chance to talk and socialize.
- Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of being aware and paying attention to the moment. This keeps a person’s mind occupied and prevents worrying or dwelling on negative thoughts. One way to do achieve mindfulness is to focus on breathing or on what is happening in the moment. To learn other ways to be mindful, read Mindfulness Techniques. Additionally, there are many groups that practice these techniques together, so look for classes or organizations that meet regularly.
- Search For New Friends. Online is one of the greatest and easiest ways to make friends, and there are numerous social and conversation networks to help achieve this goal. Visit Eons, FaceBook, or Gather to learn more.
As a caregiver, you can provide the little extra push that may be needed to help get a person over the depression hump. Look at all aspects of the person’s life and see where they need help. If they are lacking spirituality or emotion support help steer them in the right direction. If they need physical or mental assistance, use these tips to get them back on the happiness track. Holistic solutions can give elderly people a new lease on life. It can offer them a way to feel excited, valuable, and appreciated so they can enjoy a deeper, more fulfilling life.