Mary, a retired teacher, lives by herself. Recently widowed, she was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain her independence. Her two adult children were busy with work and their young families and Mary began to wonder at times why she was still around.
Mary’s medical problems began to worsen and the 78-year-old didn’t want to burden her children for help. She struggled to manage getting herself to her medical appointments and the grocery store. As time went on these once simple trips were just too difficult; Mary often felt too tired and in too much pain to leave her house. Fear of becoming increasingly disabled weighed on her. She stopped seeing her friends—tired of complaining to them—and became more isolated. “I didn’t think I was depressed,” she said, “just tired and not interested in doing as much as I used to.”
Many older people like Mary don’t realize that persistent tiredness can be a very common symptom of depression and left untreated it can affect social or personal relationships, and health.
Depression in older adults
Mary is not alone. A 2012 John A. Hartford Foundation poll of 1,318 Americans 65 and older found that “depression is a common and serious medical condition second only to heart disease in causing disability as well as harm to health and quality of life. Depression is not a natural part of the aging process, but almost one in three people surveyed (27%) believed it was.” The survey also asked how it felt to be depressed or anxious. Respondents said, “No one can really help or understand me,” “It is like a weight in my chest,” and “It is like being in a dark hole that you can’t get out of.”
Treating depression and other mental health conditions can be very effective, but it is not always simple. The initial drug or treatment, or a single treatment, often doesn’t work. Because treatments vary and each individual is unique, recovering from depression takes time and consistency.
Mary’s daughter contacted Seniors At Home to find answers and see if she might relieve some of her mother’s suffering. Within a few days a geriatric psychologist visited Mary, who admitted that she felt like she was “stuck in a tunnel without any light.” With the help of Seniors At Home, she received a combination of services, including new medication from her physician and sessions of talk therapy to help her learn ways to manage her negative feelings. Seniors At Home coordinated getting her some practical day-to-day help, including rides to the doctor, grocery delivery, and a volunteer visitor. Finally, she is feeling more like her old self.
Though the road to recovery is still long, Mary is feeling much more hopeful and not so helpless or alone.
What to do if you’re struggling
According to the National Institute of Medicine, mental health problems affect nearly one in five older adults. Depression is the most common concern, often triggered by chronic illness or a life transition. Early diagnosis and treatment of depression not only improves quality of life, but they can also potentially prevent or delay cognitive decline and dementia.
If you think you may be depressed, or have a loved one that may be, get help immediately. A physician will be more able to assist with both physical and mental health if he/she also knows all symptoms, including feelings of tiredness or lethargy.
Seniors At Home provides a full range of services designed to help older adults live safely, healthily, and more independently—including the services that have helped Mary feel hopeful again.
To learn more about mental health support available from Seniors At Home, call 415-449-3777