Q. My 75-year-old mother is depressed. She refuses to take medication because she doesn’t need “crazy pills.” All she does is sit home. What can I do to convince her to get help?
A. Perhaps some research findings on depression and dementia will help to convince your mother that taking an anti-depressant or consulting a mental health professional is worth a try. A study published last month in the British Journal of Psychiatry and reported in the New York Times found that older depressed adults were “more than twice as likely to develop vascular dementia and 65 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who were not depressed.”
Late life depression does not cause dementia, but it is a contributing factor according to the study. The authors theorize that depression increases brain toxicity thus leading to brain damage and furthering the degenerative process. Some evidence also suggests that depressed people have a high level of cortisol, a stress hormone, which can have a negative impact on the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for forming new memories.
Talk to your mother, discuss that medications for depression are not “crazy pills,” go with her to her doctors’ appointments, and help her make a plan to attack the depression. If she refuses medication, perhaps she will agree to see a mental health professional.
When older people become less depressed, they become more socially active, engage in life around them, and have increased energy. All of these have been hypothesized to decrease the onset of dementia. Your mother could have 20-plus years ahead of her. She would certainly like to spend those years enjoying her life.
Q. My husband retired last year. He was really looking forward to it, but it hasn’t turned out to be like he expected. He misses his friends and his work. I see him getting older by the day. Please give us some advice.
A. Retirement is a wonderful time for most people, but it takes some adjustment. Many individuals are physically ready to retire, but they have not considered the emotional and mental ramifications.
We have all had the experience of looking forward to a new situation that does not turn out to be as ideal as we anticipated. This disappointment happens to many people, especially men, when they retire. While women usually have social networks away from the workplace, men often rely on their co-workers for social needs. When one is no longer working, this network begins to gradually disappear.
Your husband likely had plans for activities he wanted to do after retirement. If he is not a self-starter, he may have difficulty beginning those projects. Both of you should take time to make a list of activities that would bring him pleasure. If he is involved in church, he can spend time working with youth groups, caring for the grounds, or driving older members to appointments. If he likes to garden, put him to work outside. More men than ever are joining gardening groups.
Every community needs healthy, eager volunteers. Help him find his interests and urge him forward. In a few months, he may wonder how he ever found time to have a job.
If you are also retired, it’s time to take some short vacations. Even if you take day trips around your area, you will be amazed at sights you have never seen. If you are working, try to leave early on Friday or take some of your vacation time to participate in activities that he enjoys. Retirement takes a bit of work on the part of both partners.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.