One of the most common health issues that seniors deal with is depression. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, the prevalence of depression among the elderly is 1 to 5 percent overall. Yet, it is not a “normal” part of aging; the incidence of depression increases to 11.5% of the hospitalized elderly and 13.5% of older individuals receiving home care. As a caregiver, I get calls from caregivers and clients who are dealing with not just sadness, but real depression. While some of these older adults will respond to anti-depressants, it is perhaps even more important to address what may really be just situational depression. As a geriatric care manager, I am not a diagnostician and I cannot prescribe medications, but I can prescribe some changes in activities that can help the situational sadness that a lot of seniors may experience.
Seniors – along with the rest of us – have bad days and good days, and some of the bad day part can begin to accumulate like mud on our shoes. All of us can get caught up in the bad days and what has happened that was bad, and we subsequently miss also seeing the good that typically is part of every day. There is a new movement in psychology that some people are calling “gratitude journaling” or “three good things,” and it can work as well for elders as it does for the rest of us. It goes like this. Have your elder keep a journal. Every night before going to bed, they should be instructed to write down at least three good things that happened that day. It may have been as easy as someone said something special when they said goodbye, or it was nice walking the dog, or anything that was just uplifting…a thank you or a courtesy. You might try this yourself first, and see how you feel after a week of writing down the “three good things.” It makes it easier to convince someone else to try something if you already have seen it work, but even if it leaves you neutral, it can still work for the elder in your care.
The experts on this “happiness psychology” tell us that it also can be as simple as exercising regularly, or it may be the experience of gratitude from someone. Because the sources of happiness probably are different for everyone, the experts suggest trying a number of different things to see what clicks. One expert suggests that as much as 40% of our personal happiness is under our personal control. Another 50% is genetic, and only about 10%, they suggest, is about our life circumstances. It is not about good looks or loads of money, and there are a lot of philosophical sayings about that.
A lot of good science speaks to the fact that if we do something, it begins to reform our attitudes. So encourage the elder in your care to write down the three good things each day. It may not only be soothing, but it may excite them to get up tomorrow to see what good is in store. So, it becomes not about what has happened that has been good; it is about setting the stage for what will be even better tomorrow.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop., geriatric care manager Chicago, geriatric care Chicago