MG Guest Blogger, Rachel Gerstein, LMSW, has dedicated her life to improving the life of seniors through her work at Riverdale Senior Services, Inc. in New York City. She works with many seniors who struggle with feelings of depression and she has put together the following tips for recognizing and dealing with depression, either for yourself or for a loved one. Depression can lead to a lack of motivation, insecurity and a host of other problems. As we age, symptoms of depression can mount, and it’s important to know how to spot the signs and triggers of both in order to figure out the best course of treatment, either for you or for your loved ones. There are many ways to address symptoms of depression before you consider taking mood-enhancing drugs. I’ve included a few of the most common symptoms of depression as you age below and am offering some drug-free solutions to taking control of these types of feelings: Death of Spouse/Family Members/Friends This is a common cause of depression in people of any age, however when dealing with seniors it is more prevalent given that the longer you live the more people you meet and form relationships with, leaving more potential for losing them. When appropriate grief should be expressed by the individual who has experienced loss. It is imperative to your well-being and overall mental health. Adjusting to Change Change can be a challenge for many people, and in older age it is likely that one will face many changes and transitions. Adjusting your life role, like retiring or needing to be cared for by one’s adult child, is often a difficult adjustment for many older adults. For older men of the Greatest Generation, in particular, a person’s identity was directly tied into their job and role as primary money earner. Losing this part of their identity is a huge blow to their ego, which can be challenging, especially when there is no outlet for them to channel their energy and feelings. Health Problems It’s not unusual to experience more health issues or illnesses as we age. Dealing with chronic pain or a life-threatening illness can cause major depression. As with grieving for a lost loved one, depression in this situation can seem appropriate. However, if the the sadness and other unpleasant emotions are expressed to a friend, social worker, or therapist, then it can ease the burden and hopelessness that one feels. Isolation Social isolation is a major problem for seniors. As people are living longer, there has been an increased effort to keep senior citizens in the community--in their own homes and out of nursing homes. While it is mostly beneficial for people to remain living independently it does have the potential to cause social isolation. In particular, if an individual has mobility issues due to illness/age or is handicapped this would make leaving one’s home/apartment difficult. Often times in the lives of older adults their social circles become smaller due to spouses, friends or family members deaths, or moving too far away to visit. These factors, plus insufficient social support and lack of community based organizations for senior citizens, lead to an increased number of elderly people becoming lonely, depressed or isolated. It is not enough for people to live longer lives, we need to do our best to ensure a quality of life that we ourselves would want for our own parents or loved ones. The solution here can be as simple as taking 10 minutes out of your day to call or visit an elderly family member or loved one. It might seem insignificant to you, but it can make their whole day brighter. Community based organizations for that serve senior citizens are necessary to keep older adults supported and connected. Additionally, programs providing telephone reassurance or friendly visiting can be life-lines for seniors without family or friends to speak with. If a senior you know is experiencing depression for an extended period of time or is just having difficulty getting out of it, they should consult a doctor/therapist for referral to a psychopharmacologist or psychiatrist for possible anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications. If a someone you know is already taking medication then I strongly recommend trying to encourage them to do so in conjunction with regular talk therapy. For more information on dealing with anxiety and depression as you age, check out these helpful articles: http://carechat.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/isolation-studies.pdf http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/our-work/isolation/info-2012/7-facts-about-social-isolation.html Rachel Gerstein is an LSMW at Riverdale Senior Services, Inc. in New York City.