4 Ways to Alleviate Loneliness and Depression In Older Australians
“When you’re surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you’re by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don’t feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you’re really alone.” ― Fiona Apple
As humans, we strive to live healthily and pursue success and happiness. There needs to be a balance between physical and mental well being. When you think about wellness as we age, it’s usually associated with physical health or dementia-prevention, but we often forget that older Australians also might struggle with loneliness and depression.
Here are some startling facts about ageing and depression in Australia:
- Up to 15 percent of older Australians experience depression
- Rates of depression among people living in residential aged-care are believed to be higher than average, at around 35 percent
- Around 10 percent of older Australians suffer from anxiety
- Unfortunately most people over 65 years of age still see depression as a weakness or character flaw rather than a health condition
- Recent data showed that men over the age of 85 have the highest rate of suicide in Australia
As we age, sometimes changes occur that might cause us to experience stress and sadness. The transition from work to retirement, the death of a loved one, or the diagnosis of an illness, can all make us feel uneasy, anxious, unhappy and contribute to depression over time. According to Beyond Blue some symptoms of depression are:
- Neglecting self-care or daily responsibilities
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Confusion, worrying and becoming agitated
- A change in sleeping patterns – sleeping more or less than usual
- Unexplained pain
- Loss or change in appetite and/or change in weight
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Negative comments about themselves or their situation
Depression in older people can be harder to identify because they sometimes have different symptoms compared to a younger demographic. Some might have less obvious symptoms than sadness, thus are less willing to talk about their feelings and doctors might not be able to recognise that they might have depression.
Common depression symptoms in older people are more likely to be:
- Physical complaint
- Constantly feeling tired
- Having trouble sleeping eg) insomnia
- Grumpiness or easily irritable
Loneliness is also a huge reason depression is common among older people. Social contact decreases as people age, often due to lack of mobility, retirement and other reasons leading to higher rates of social isolation. Loneliness is a huge risk factor for depression, heightening the sense of unhappiness and worthlessness. Therefore it is important to look out for these symptoms, particularly if you’re providing in home care, and alleviate them ahead of time.
Nurse Next Door has curated a list of tools and activities that can help alleviate loneliness and depression in older people and promote wellness!
1. Having Hobbies & Learning Something New
Whether it’s continuing a hobby or starting a brand new one, it’s good to have something to keep you enthusiastic and looking forward to on a daily basis.
It’s simple but rewarding when you knit a masterpiece to gift to friends and family. You can knit at home by yourself when watching TV, but it’s also a great social activity! Invite friends over, have some tea and chat as you knit!
This martial art is the perfect exercise for older people. This Chinese martial art is supposed to combine increased muscular power and improve heart function, making it a gentle exercise for older people to maintain good health.
Attending a dance session weekly can have a positive impact on wellness as we age. Weekly classes can become a routine and habits can provide a sense of comfort. Dancing is also a social activity, so picking out a elder-oriented class can help with increasing muscle movement and mobility.
They are all the rage right now. There are lots of community choirs that are looking for people to join. If you love singing, it’s a great way to learn how to sing with a group—different vocal ranges like sopranos and tenors all coming together in harmony. Singing has positive psychological effects, it encourages the release of endorphins which are the ‘happy’ chemicals in your brain!
2.Technology, Accessories & Other Resources
We have curated a few stand-out technology accessories that can bring benefits to senior wellness.
Digital home assistant devices like Google Home or Amazon Echo can help with making daily routines simpler with voice activated technology. You can ask the device what the weather is today, to play you your favourite song etc. Read more on “Why a Google Home device is Perfect for Seniors”.
Symptoms associated with depression may include insomnia and anxiety. Weighted blankets are typically 5-10% of a person’s body weight and the sensation of it is having it press down against you into the bed, which has a calming effect. It feels like a hug or a cuddle, which makes your brain physically produce serotonin, which promotes a better mood and a sense of calm. According to Healthline.com, ‘The blankets also simulate deep pressure touch (DPT), a type of therapy that uses firm, hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety’. Weighted blankets have been used for autistic children who experience sensory overload. Studies show weighted blankets reduce anxiety in children and adults. They can help people who suffer from anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, depression etc, achieve a more relaxed and deep sleep.
Weighted blankets aren’t suitable for everyone, however. Older people should consult their doctor prior to purchasing one. Those with ‘chronic health conditions, circulation or respiration issues, temperature regulation problems or those who are recovering from surgery are not advised to use a weighted blanket either’. (DailyCaring.com)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs in autumn and winter. It makes people feel tired, less motivated, sad, and sleep more than usual. Light therapy is delivered through a box or lamp that emits 10,000 lux (a measure of light intensity) that mimics natural daylight. HuffingtonPost states that people who struggle with SAD have been found to have 5% higher levels of a transporter protein that moves serotonin back into the pre-synaptic neuron which leads to depression. Serotonin is a happiness hormone that embraces your brain you feel successful or important. Those who suffer from loneliness and depression have very low levels of serotonin. Having coffee out in the sun for 20 minutes allows our skin to absorb UV rays that promote Vitamin D and serotonin. However, older people might have mobility limitations that lead to an insufficient amount of exposure in the sun.
Gratitude Practice Apps or Meditation
There are many apps on phones and tablets that serve as a gratitude journal (Gratitude). Journaling and meditating at the start or end of a day allows us to be mindful and grateful of our life. We can think about the people and things we value and how much we can appreciate life. It helps boost serotonin when you’re feeling distressed. Reminiscing and reflecting upon our past achievements and victories can give us a serotonin boost, which is a happy chemical in our brain! (HuffingtonPost)
3. Adopting a pet
Owning a pet promotes unconditional love and companionship, giving seniors a sense of purpose! It also encourages a more active lifestyle and increased social interaction. Nurse Next Door collaborated with Pets For the Elderly and created this video, listing 10 benefits for seniors owning a pet:
4. Family and Friend Support
Here are some tips for helping a depressed loved one:
Be aware of ego interference: They might be too proud or ashamed to admit or ask for help, afraid of becoming a burden to their family.
Prepare healthy meals: Look for ways to encourage nutritious, balanced meals in their diet.
Make time for social activities: It’s important to remain social. Engage a caregiver to accompany them to the local senior or community centre. Schedule visits among family and friends etc and if your plans to ‘drop in’ are refused, be gently insistent.
Encourage treatment for depression: Seek professional help such as different therapies or medications and be sure your loved one is keeping up with their treatment plan. If the depression is chronic and severe, it’s definitely advised to see a psychiatrist or therapist, counselling alongside prescribed medication might be the most effective way to help with the chemical imbalance in your brain causing the depression.
Follow medication instructions: Be sure to have reminders for medication with the correct dosage and schedule.
Look out for suicide warning signs: If you suspect that your loved one might be suicidal, please seek professional help immediately.
Offer emotional support: Be a patient and compassionate listener and let them know that they are not alone.
We understand that taking care of an ageing family member can be incredibly rewarding but it can be emotionally draining and exhausting as well. Consider home care services that will allow your loved one to still live in the comfort of their own home whilst offering you some respite and a chance to re-energise. Carers Victoria noted that carers have the “lowest wellbeing of any large group” and are 40 percent more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions.
Our home care services include respite care and can provide you with a much-needed break right when you most need it. By stepping out of your everyday routine and taking the time to relax, re-energise, and refresh, you’ll enhance your own well-being as well as strengthen your relationship with the person you’re caring for. This can make all the difference in the world. Our caregivers can provide transportation and accompaniment for your loved one to attend classes and socialise or simply companionship to have fun cooking a meal together!
Learn more about how Nurse Next Door Home Care Services can alleviate and help with loneliness, or call us on 1300 600 247 to book a FREE Caring Consult!