Article by Diana Rodriguez, Everyday Health.com
“Staying vital and connected can help you ward off the depression that often comes with aging. Here are simple things you can do, even from your own home.
A challenged brain is a happy brain. So when the kids are grown and you’ve retired from your job, you could find yourself struggling a bit to stay busy and engaged, and you might feel depressed.
You wouldn’t be alone. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that more than 6.5 million American seniors suffer from depression. Seniors living independently have the lowest risk for depression, with the condition affecting about 1 to 5 percent of this group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But at the other end of the spectrum, about 13.5 percent of those who require in-home help, and about 11.5 percent of seniors who are hospitalized, experience depression.
Despite these numbers, depression in seniors is frequently overlooked, according to Jaza Marina Brown, MD, a geriatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta. And that’s often because the symptoms may look like they stem from a different disease. For instance, weight loss and poor appetite may seem like a gastrointestinal problem, and problems with daily functioning could seem like a case of arthritis, Dr. Brown says.
Struggles with physical health can lead to problems with mental health for seniors, says Mustafa M. Husain, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the geriatric psychiatry division at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Physical illnesses may contribute to depression, or vice versa.
Staying physically healthy, socially active, and mentally engaged as you age are keys to boosting senior mental health, experts agree. For instance:
1. Just Keep Moving
Exercise is essential for both the body and mind, Brown says. Go for a daily walk or join a senior exercise class at a nearby Y, gym, or senior center. If you have physical limitations, try chair exercises. If you’re physically able, try a dance class. A study published in August 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association found that just one 60-minute dance class a week led to significant improvements in depression symptoms.
2. Socialize at Your Senior Center
“Senior centers offer a variety of classes — from crafts and hobbies to computer classes — to keep the mind interested and active,” Brown says. Some also offer transportation to those who need it.
3. Stay Involved in Family Gatherings
Find ways to be included and visit often with family, especially grandchildren. Keep visits short if you get tired, Dr. Husain says, and make sure you’re just there to enjoy their company rather than be a babysitter.”