The isolation factor: how to prevent depression in seniors

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Do you remember when your days were chronically hectic?  Whether it was attending family reunions or playing on a work-league baseball team, socialization was a major element of life. But, as we age, our social atmosphere starts to shrink. Our kids move out, our friends retire and move away, and unfortunately, people start to pass away. Along with these changes, our health may decline. We may find ourselves not physically able to do the things we would normally do and our cognitive abilities start to shift. It can be a time filled with loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of health, independence and sense of identity and purpose. All these things can result in isolation, loneliness and depression.

So how do we prevent depression in the senior years of life?

If you are the loved one of a senior citizen, you may find yourself struggling to help; but, the solution can be as simple as to listen.

Seniors often feel invisible, unimportant or forgotten. Actively listening, sitting down, being present and trying to fully understand where they’re at is a great way to offer support. Truly try to appreciate their concerns. Paraphrase what they are saying to you, to ensure you understand exactly what they are trying to tell you. This shows that you genuinely care about what is happening to them and it validates them and their feelings.

Listening and trying to understand the concerns and worries of the person is incredibly important. So is helping to find the tools they can use to lift themselves out of isolation. Let them know about social support resources, such as community centres that host senior citizen events, or encourage volunteer work to get them to engage with the community and foster a sense of value by giving back. If the space they live in allows for it, encourage them to get a pet for companionship. If their body allows for it, encourage them to be active. Go for a walk, a leisurely hike, or sign up for aqua aerobics. The socialization, plus physical activity, will help lessen the feelings of isolation.

If you yourself are a senior citizen experiencing isolation, there are some things you can do to get yourself out of it and into a more social and engaging situation.

Focusing in on self-care is a great place to start. What is self-care and what does it look like? Self-care is making a focussed effort to take care of yourself either physically, mentally, or spiritually. Ensure you’re sleeping properly, as our bodies need more rest as we age. Establish a nightly routine that will ease your body into a sleep cycle. Do your best to eat a healthy, balanced diet. If you are able to, be as active as possible, as that helps the brain produce and release endorphins, which help the brain cope with stress and depression. Engage in group activities, such as book clubs or hobbies that will both provide mental stimulation, connection and a sense of belonging. If you are looking for resources here in Calgary, 3-1-1 is a great telephone resource that provides information on various activities and support services in the city.

You don’t have to be alone when it seems like your social circle is shrinking. There are tools and resources at your disposal. And if you need help, we’re here to help you make the most of this new phase of your life.