Older and Depressed

Why do so many people get depressed as they get older? It seems the answers are many.

As people age, loss becomes an unwanted companion. Older people lose the suppleness of their youth, their sense of invulnerability, often their soul mates. They lose the ease with which they once viewed their health and the certainty that they still matter to the world. They are no longer defined by their work and their children and often are unsure what does define them. It is not uncommon for elders to feel adrift, like boats at sea.

What they gain is not always welcome. With the freedom of grown children, comes the reality that children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren can be thousands of miles away. Other unwanted visitors also tag along. They have scary names like arthritis, osteoporosis, heart valve replacement, stroke and cancer. Boredom also visits. Days once spent changing the world now are spent by many observing it.

Yes, aging can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The keys to successful aging are involvement, curiosity, reinvention and perspective. If children, grandchildren and friends are at a distance, it is important to keep actively involved. If visiting often in person is not possible, there is the internet, skype and the telephone. Taking on volunteer or part-time work, learning new things, taking up a hobbies, spending time with friends, teaching, writing, traveling also make a difference. Perhaps you no longer do what you did for years, but so what? Now you do something new. The important thing is to do something. Something that matters to you. This is what I mean by reinvention.

Probably the most important ingredient of successful aging is perspective. You have a choice. You can view yourself as old with few options or as an elder with wisdom and endless curiosity. You can live fully and richly or you cam give up. The choice is yours.

Naive, you say? No, it’s not. But to get to this healthy perspective takes a good deal of work and some battling through depression. Along the way you may need a therapist or some psychiatric medication such as an antidepressant or something for anxiety. This is not something about which to be embarrassed. Remember, if you have a headache, you take aspirin. This is no different.

One other note for the people who love those who are growing older. As people age, they don’t always put their depression into words. Often, it is physical complaints such as fatigue that get them to doctors. Be on the lookout for signs. It is often that a small intervention early on avoids bigger problems later.

I recently received an email about a program for the at-home elderly aimed at reducing depression. It’s a program put forth by the Visiting Nurses of New York. As I do, this organization believes in the very practical benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy. Their approach of helping clients break the vicious cycle of depression by taking one small step before the next to reduce depression seems to be working well. Maybe more visiting nurse associations, in more cities and states, will jump on board. To see information on this program, log on to