My 84-year-old client, George, had had a tough time over the holidays. His wife, Grace, had passed away in the summer, and it was his first Christmas in 40 years without her. Spending time with his family had helped distract him, but now the holidays were over.
“There are days I don’t even want to get out of bed,” he admitted to me during one of our visits. “Sometimes I feel worse than when Grace died.”
At times we all feel blue or sad, but these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. Depression, however, is a serious mental health issue and can be triggered by life changes such as the death of a loved one, cancer, a chronic illness that seriously affects quality of life, and simple loneliness. Signs to watch for are when the person feels persistently sad, irritable and hopeless for weeks at a time. They may withdraw socially and lose interest in activities or hobbies they used to enjoy and experience fatigue, difficulty concentrating, have sleep and appetite disturbances, and thoughts of suicide.
George and I talked for quite a while, and he decided to try a grief support group that met at his church. I also encouraged him to be proactive in reaching out to his son and daughter. He hadn’t shared with them how lonely he was feeling, and once he did, they both made it a point to call and text him on a regular basis.
“I know they’re busy with work and with their kids,” he said. “But it does help to hear from them. I’m feeling a little better than before.”
It’s so important for seniors to maintain their social connections. Being socially active reduces the risk for depression and has a positive effect on mental, emotional, and physical health.