Depression Shouldn’t Dim the Golden Years

Bette Davis once said, “Old age is not for sissies.” There are many versions of her quote but they all express the sentiment that aging is a process that requires courage, endurance and fortitude. We handle it best when we cope in the company of friends, family and community because, for many of us, aging may mean physical challenges, reduced income and a shrinking social circle. These factors can place some seniors—especially older men—at risk for suicide.

Suicide. It’s a topic that’s unpleasant to think about and difficult to discuss. But research shows that talking about it is exactly what’s needed. One reason that seniors are at risk is that depression is often unrecognized in older adults, where it may appear as insomnia or other sleep disturbances, loss of appetite or a lack of interest in the activities one once enjoyed. However, depression is highly treatable with effective medications and therapies, and the treated person may find a renewed interest and joy in life.

Dr. Patrick Arbore, Director of Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services at the Institute on Aging, tells of meeting a woman at a nursing home who had previously been a volunteer at the same facility. “When I asked her how she saw herself now at the age of 84, she replied, ‘I am nobody anymore. I used to be someone but I am no one now.’ As she continued to speak with me, it became clear that she was depressed. Fortunately, she agreed to a meeting with a psychiatrist who diagnosed depression. She began treatment with an antidepressant as well as meetings with a social worker. She utilized the Friendship Line, especially on weekends when she felt the loneliest. When I saw her a few months later, she was feeling much better. She said, ‘Being 84 wasn’t my problem; feeling lonely and depressed was.’”

Of course, we all face challenges as we age, whether we are in our fifties, sixties or nineties! Learning to cope with retirement or job loss, a smaller budget and those morning aches and pains are tasks for each of us. There are remedies available to everyone that become even more important as we grow older, including exercise, good nutrition, mindfulness and meditation, stress reduction, calming activities and cultivating an optimistic attitude. But when these aren’t enough, it’s good to know that further help is available.

If you’re concerned about a friend, relative or neighbor, don’t just stuff that worry away. Talk to your own parents or grandparents and ask direct questions. Bring up the topic of suicide overtly.

In San Diego County, call the Access and Crisis Line (888)724-7240 to talk with a trained counselor who can provide additional tips. The Friendship Line offers 24-hour support for people aged 60 years and older, and adults living with disabilities. To speak with a trained volunteer who specializes in offering caring conversation with older adults call (800) 971-0016. For other services offered by the Institute on Aging, visit www.ioaging.org. In addition, the It’s Up to Us website has many resources that can help older adults manage and improve their health, both physical and mental. https://up2sd.org/resources/older-adults