Abstract.....Looking into the eyes of a senior citizen is to see the fathomless loneliness clouding their eyes. They might have had the brightest shine in their golden years of youth, but their depression at their senior years, still often goes unrecognized. A huge part of the populace is left to suffer in silence. But to have a discussion out in the open air about depression is stigmatized, so in the most often times, depression lies veiled behind the broken smiles. This is prevalent in one and one section of the population and who else could it be than the senior citizens.
It goes beyond their sad moods and lack of interest. Depression is followed by irritability and unexplained fury, the silent helplessness at not being able to do anything about it. The persistent sadness is chased by lack of sleep, appetite and energy. There is this inescapable dwelling on their youth, what those years were like and hopelessness hangs in the air for them as they turn to be the senior citizens. Alongside that, cognitive problems come in, like poor concentration. In addition, it takes a toll on their physical health as their normal movement is deterred. They begin to move very slowly being physically agitated.
But why is the senior depression so unrecognized? While we follow the normal assumption that the fogginess of memory, the continual crankiness and an increasing in the sleep pattern are the normal indicators of aging, we almost always exclude them as the signs of a gradual despondency. Exhausted from loneliness, they slump down into the bottomless depression and meeting their eyes, we see a melancholy. It becomes a trait as they gradually carry with them everywhere. While we focus on the olden theories what comes with aging, like petulance about numerous medical appointments, low motivation, a gradual loss of appetite, we are not so successful to recognize the unrecognized senior depression. The increasing physical ailments and the gradual loss of independence hurls them in despair and lack of confidence.
The senior citizens are characterized by their reduced intellectual functioning, which is many times mistaken as some sort of physical ailment, the by- product of which is a loss of memory. Consequently, the seniors get caught in a huge frustration. Many times, they roll their eyes in a sheer exasperation. Following their own cognitive deficits, the depressed seniors collapse into a net of frustration.
Another problem stems from the fact that their emotive health, the feelings that cloud their minds and their problems are not discussed out in the open. As in the society, discussion about feelings is a stigmatized thing. It doesn’t mean, that silent feeling of loneliness is not there. It is there, behind the curtain of society, it exists loud and clear. But as per the dictum, they do not talk about it, because it would mean a sign of weakness not strength. It has been passed on as a generational habit. As a result, we are never inclined to question what thoughts do silently fly in their sky. Neither do we ever inquire about their mood.
Following are the steps in identifying a senior depression.
If there is a potentially depressed senior citizen in the midst of all, then we can take a moment to ask them, how are they feeling, sad or depressed. Their words will indicate their mood, or if it is a substantial depression. They might deny it in the fear of how society is going to perceive them, or they might get angered. We might even smell an irritation in their tone and words. But if they are languished for most of the times, then it becomes a strong indicator for an evaluation of their mental health.
Are they looking back at the years left behind, do they spend too much time on dwelling on the long-gone past or do they worry incessantly about what the future holds for them?
Do the seniors feel like they have become a burden to others? They may be inclined to feel it because of the caretaking they need.
Does their sadness inside push then to wish that they would rather not wake up? Do they gradually slip into a downslide?
Elderly people tend to encounter diverse medical problems and have to take various medications. They in turn might cause depressive symptoms.
But elderly people are often depressed and live a withdrawn lifestyle. Their depression stems from the fact that as they age, their social circle contracts. A huge loneliness engulfs them. Many times, they reflect on things and live with regrets that silently swallow them inside. In addition, the limitations on their physical abilities reduces their capability to participate in productive activities like pursuing a career, volunteering and contributing to the society. Their travel is restrained due to the mobility problems.
That’s where our focus needs to be, so we can assist the seniors in adapting to their new lifestyle, given their abilities and limitations at that age. We can involve ourselves in making them see themselves in a dignified way, and not as a burden to the society.
In conjunction with an occupational therapist who is skilled to work with the gross motors and fine motors, we can help them to gain some of those so they can perform new meaningful activities. It can be viewed as an ‘emotional hand-holding’ during which the elderly people gain a lot from that occupational therapy. Rather than hopelessly looking back on the years they once had, they learn to optimistically look into the years they have now. It becomes a liberating experience for the seniors.
We can make them feel valuable by asking some questions like……
Growing old is a part of life. But what seemed to be the most rewarding thing about getting older. Was that a lifetime of knowledge that they gathered?
What are the most important lessons they have learned in their lives? We can ask them to reflect on the past meaningfully and bring out their shares of blessings and lessons that they found along their way.
Who has influenced them in the most positive way possible? Who shaped their lives, so they became the best versions of themselves? Answering those questions gently take them back to make a meaning out of all those years lived and instead of dwelling on the past, it becomes a meaningful reflection.
Now that they are elderly people, what life advice would they pass along to the younger generations?
We can make some choices about what to talk about to the seniors. They can be their favorite discussion topics, which will give them the impression that their past years matter to us. They are not lost, rather they want to be voiced. What was their most rewarding childhood memory?
We can ask for their views on the present lifestyle. How has it changed from the years they lived? Does the difference seem glaring to their eyes?
How do they plan to look toward the future? In addition, we can ask about their accomplishments of the past, so it reminds them the priceless contributions they brought to this world.
We can reveal our genuine interest in them by asking questions like…. Where did they grow up? What was their place of nativity? What brought their parents to live in that area? Was it their career, or other family members living nearby? What was their residence like, an apartment or a house and then to describe it in vivid details? What were they like when they were growing up as children (the emotional ones, or the boisterous or the resistant ones)?
Being able to talk about their childhood awakens the child at heart. While the seniors have aged, we can help them age gracefully. It adds laughter to their lives, and the days do not have to be so cloudy for them after all. This is where we succeed, as we give the seniors back what they thought was lost and let them live life through the lens of optimism.
Author.....Jayita Bhattacharjee....born in Calcutta, India and later on education from University of Houston in Economics, she had chosen her career as a trustee and teacher. Her Indian residence is in the vicinity of the famous Belurmath. Currently, she is settled in Tampa, Florida. Her books " The Ecstatic Dance of Life", " Sacred Sanctuary", " Light of Consciousness", " Dewdrops of Compassion" " are among the many that she has authored. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6850731.Jayita_Bhattacharjee