Keep Depression from Dampening Your Golden Years
According to the CDC, older adults have a higher risk for depression. That certainly doesn’t mean that depression is inevitable as you age; the vast majority of older adults are not depressed. But some effects of aging, such as chronic physical conditions or limited mobility, can trigger depression.
How can I stave off depression as I age?
Engage your Brain. “Neuroplasticity” is the name of the game here; the more of it you can achieve, the better off your cognitive function will be. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself and make new connections. Increased neuroplasticity allows your brain to retain knowledge and memories while fighting off conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
To improve your brain’s plasticity, you need to get your mind out of its comfort zone by learning something new every day. Many doctors recommend learning a foreign language or mastering a new musical instrument.
There are also some great mind game apps that you can play daily. For optimal results, make sure to play games that have been shown to boost cognitive function in randomized clinical trials. Along with improving your memory, these games can speed up your brain processing and enhance your ability to pay attention.
Exercise. Getting up and moving on a daily basis is not just good for your body. There’s a strong link between exercise and improved mental health. When you have an established exercise routine, you have something to plan on and look forward to each day. That kind of structure adds a sense of purpose to your life.
When you exercise, it releases “happy chemicals” known as endorphins that help elevate your mood. Down or worried about something? Take a brisk walk in the open air, and you’ll likely return with an improved perspective.
Exercise can also decrease your risk for chronic conditions and injuries by strengthening your heart, bones, muscle mass, sense of balance, and agility. Illness and injuries can limit your function and, consequently, drag down your mental health. Staying active is a small price to pay for stopping that ripple effect.
The CDC recommends being active for 30 minutes daily, and it’s a good idea to infuse your routine with a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretches.
Socialize. One of the great paradoxes of being depressed is that at a time when you need the support of others the most, your depression drives you to isolate. Even if you have to push yourself to get together with others, it’s worth the effort.
Research shows that over 25% of adults above age 50 feel isolated, and nearly 30% say their social interactions are limited to once a week or less. Research also shows that loneliness and isolation can literally make you sick, linking it to cognitive decline, functional decline, and a worsening of conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Try building social routines into your schedule so that you don’t have to continually think of ways to get out and mingle. If you live in an assisted living facility or one of the great independent senior living communities, find out what regular activities they offer residents. Getting involved could include signing up for an ongoing class or club. You’ll be more likely to go if there’s a standing commitment. You can also schedule a standing call with loved ones so that you’re ensured of catching up with them on a regular basis.
Volunteering is another great idea. Not only will you be working with others, you’ll be serving, which can take your mind off of your own concerns and fill your life with new purpose.
To kill two birds with one stone, try exercising in a social setting. Join a walking club or take a class at the gym with friends; it’s an efficient way to keep both your mind and body thriving.
And finally, if people wear you out, consider getting a pet. The companionship of a good dog or cat who needs your care and greets you with enthusiasm when you walk in the door can keep loneliness at bay.
Start a hobby. The rat race of life can leave us without time to pursue hobbies that we’ve always been interested in, but the older years often bring the gift of free time. Try picking up one of those hobbies. Take a writing or painting class or get outside and garden. Join a book club or explore French cooking. Build models or learn to quilt or embroider.
What if you can’t shake the blues?
For many people, staying busy, engaged, and challenged is enough to keep their mental health in good shape, but if you still feel down, it may be time to get help. The good news about depression is that it doesn’t have to be an end state. Depression is treatable–just like any other medical condition.
Know the symptoms
You may have depression if you:
- Feel fatigued and sleep excessively OR have trouble sleeping
- Lack the will to do things that once interested you
- Feel excessive guilt or worthlessness
- Feel hopeless and negative
- Feel irritable
- Can’t concentrate or make decisions
- Experience a change in your appetite (either loss of appetite or compulsion to overeat)
- Have suicidal ideations
Get professional help
Don’t try to white knuckle your way through depression. After all, you wouldn’t do that with an illness like diabetes or heart disease. In today’s world, resources abound for treating depression. Tap into them by scheduling an appointment with your physician.
Whether through counseling or medication or a combination of both, you can be on your way to loving your golden years, not just simply enduring them.