Q: How does your age affect your mental health? I'm noticing some changes in my older mother and am not sure what to do for her.
A: Depression is common in older adults for a variety of reasons. As we age, we tend to experience a physical decline, which can contribute to changes in mood and feelings of self-worth and value. We may experience limited mobility, chronic pain, frailty and other health issues that contribute to our emotional state. Situational changes such as retirement can lead to a feeling of purposelessness. Physical limitations due to medical issues can increase that feeling as well. Moving into an assisted-living facility or nursing home is a major change for older adults and can lead to a sense of loss.
Depression can be overlooked as a normal response to aging or illness. Also, older adults are less likely to demonstrate as much overt sadness as you might see in a young adult. If you notice behaviors in your mother such as withdrawal, apathy, hopelessness, loss of appetite or interest, it would be a good idea to accompany her to an appointment with her doctor and share some of your concerns. Encourage her to talk openly with her doctor and assure her that there is no stigma attached to dealing with depression. There are medications that can help, and therapy is an effective tool to cope with depression. Helping your mother maintain good social relationships and encouraging her to do some age-appropriate exercise can help her as well.
— Dr. Alycia Cleinman, CHI Memorial Center for Healthy Aging; Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society member