Make the Season Brighter

For many older adults, the magic of the winter holidays has nothing to do with presents, but with presence.

Most of us anticipate with a feeling of excitement the opportunity to share the holidays with our loved ones near and far, even if we aren’t there with them.

We celebrate traditions, special meals, holiday treats and catching up with our family members who travel great (or small) distances to be together and reach out to those with whom we can’t be together.

Unfortunately, it is not all moments of cheer for some, often particularly our elder loved ones. Far too many of our seniors find the holiday season to be a time of remembering losses and feeling sad or depressed.

Traditions change as we transition from childhood to adulthood and into elderhood.  We can create new traditions with our aging loved ones this holiday season. Talk together about the feelings they are having. Sharing these feelings and knowing that someone is listening to them can make seniors feel much better.

Why is Mom So Sad?

Not to get you down over the holidays, but to make you aware of what might be happening around you, here are some statistics on depression.

  • 15 out of 100 adults over 65 suffer from depression impacting 6 million Americans over 65
  • 15-20% of older adults who live in our communities suffer from depression
  • 25-35% of older adults who live in long-term care facilities have symptoms of depression, this number has been estimated to actually be nearer 50%
  • An estimated 2 million adults over 65 in the US have a diagnosable clinical depression
  • 25% of those with chronic disease suffer from depression

Depression, however, is NOT a result of aging as many people believe. We can age without becoming depressed.  Depression can happen to anyone, at any time and any age. Many people don’t seek help because they may feel that it won’t help because whatever is causing the depression will continue. Depression can have many causes such as the death of a spouse or close family member, a severe illness or chronic pain, loss in independence, and loneliness.

Untreated depression in the elderly can lead to a variety of problems, including alcoholism, substance abuse, and even suicide. Someone living with severe pain and depression is four times more likely to attempt suicide.

Every 100 minutes an older adult dies by suicide – – the highest overall death rate of any age group.

Family Activities to Keep the Blues Away
  1. We can help keep older adult loved ones from being part of the statistics by helping them fight off depression over the holidays.
  2. Play favorite music and classic movies during the holiday season to bring smiles instead of frowns.
  3. Technology can create connections!  Set up Skype video calls or Facetime with family members who can’t visit for the holidays so that family can connect, and sing, laugh and share stories together.  This is a meaningful gift to give to one another!
  4. Spend one-on-one time with an elder adult. Find fun things to do to occupy them throughout the season and shortly afterward so that they don’t have time to let their mind dwell on sad times or losses they experience.
  • Make cookies
  • Take a nature walk
  • Write holiday cards and notes
  • Play a game
  • Visit a museum
  • Go to a local event like a parade or church choir
  • Take in a holiday movie
  • Drive around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights and decorations
  • Do a craft project
  • Plan the family meal and shop together
  • Get together to watch old comedy shows that bring a chuckle, like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners or Laurel and Hardy. Many of these shows can be found on the TV, in DVD form or streamed from the internet. Use these programs to open dialogue to engage their mind and relive memories.
  • Get physical! Go for a walk, dance, hula hoop, go bowling, toss around a ball, chase your dog, or any other physical activity your elder adult loved one can safely participate with other family members. Make it a habit, not just one you do during the holiday. Staying physically active will help keep your senior mentally fit as well.

Remember, depression can have real, negative physical effects on older adults, including fatigue, withdrawing from activities, sadness, abnormal sleep patterns, anxiety or irritability, use of alcohol or drugs, or suicidal thoughts. We can help them avoid it, though.

Keeping your older loved one engaged, being observant to signs of depression and seeking help when it is needed will keep the blues away not just during the holidays but all year long!


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

Is loneliness affecting you? Part 2

In the first part of this post, we learned that loneliness affects nearly half of all adults over the age of 50–resulting in real health consequences. This week, we’re looking at ways that you can stay connected and help those around you stay connected to prevent isolation and loneliness.

Loneliness is normal, right? So, how do I know if I’m at risk?

Everyone is sure to experience loneliness at some point in their lives, yes. But, chronic isolation can lead to loneliness that causes severe health effects. The AARP Foundation’s initiative Connect 2 Affect has created a simple online assessment tool to help you identify if you or someone you love is at risk of isolation. Try it out for yourself here.

How do I prevent isolation and loneliness?

Examine these three areas of your life to see where you could be more connected:

  1. Social activity: Close relationships are formed and strengthened by the frequency with which you see other people. Weekly, or more frequent, interactions will help form these relationships that provide a sense of connection which alleviates the feeling of loneliness. Try volunteering, attending regular religious services, or senior center activities weekly.
  2. Nurture relationships: Relationships can be tough sometimes, especially with family. Focus on the positive aspects of your relationships and try to relate to your friends and family in a way that makes everyone happy with the interactions.
  3. Examine local resources: Socialization can be hampered by one’s inability to access social opportunity. Visit your doctor about physical ailments that prevent you from participating in activities, look into transportation services, cleaning services to help prepare your home for guests, and libraries and senior center calendars for an array of classes or group sessions. No one wants to leave their home of many years, but access to daily, spontaneous, and serendipitous interactions along with basic services can allow you to function at a higher level, engage more frequently, and alleviate the lack of resources to maintain a home and higher level of activity in your life.

I know someone that may be lonely–what can I do?

Starting the conversation is the hardest part. Keep in mind, however, that they may appreciate that you recognized that they may be lonely. Connect 2 Affect has created a great poster to remind yourself about what you can help do including:

  • Treat health issues: Fall prevention programs increase balance, strength, and the confidence to go out more often (Read more about how yoga can help in older adults!)
  • Provide support through major life transitions: Support groups to help someone feel connected while coping with significant change
  • Address societal barriers that exclude older adults: Policy changes that support retraining and retention of older workforce
  • Ensure availability of services and support tailored to the needs of diverse communities: Home-sharing models that make aging in place more affordable for all including senior living communities
  • Create opportunity for affordable and accessible transportation: Volunteer transportation services that make it easier for older adults to get around their community

With so many adults in our country facing this plague of loneliness, it is up to us to raise awareness and ensure that those we love (including ourselves!) have the ability to lead healthy, happy lives! Start by reaching out and making a connection.

 

 

Related posts and resources:

Elders find joy in Yoga practice!

Human connection ~ at the core of everything that matters in the world

Elderhood – What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?

Connect where you live! Find a senior living community near you.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.

 

woman looking worried

Is loneliness affecting you? Part 1

Isolation and loneliness are getting more attention these days from groups such as the AARP Foundation and their newly formed organization Connect 2 Affect. While its important to understand that isolation is the objective lack of social access and resources and loneliness is the subjective perception of one’s well-beingthey are not mutually exclusive. Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation have serious health affects.

The National Social Life, Health and Aging Project is supported by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institutes on Health, and the AARP Foundation. Together, they examined existing data on the frequency of loneliness in older adults and produced A Profile of Social Connectedness in Older Adults.

According to the report, social isolation is a bigger problem than you may know:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 adults over age 50 is at risk for social isolation
  • Subjective feelings of loneliness can increase risk of death from 26% to 45%
  • The health affects of prolonged social isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Nearly half of older adults in the U.S. experience some degree of loneliness

Dr. Bill Thomas has, for years, led a culture-change movement to identify, understand, and combat what he calls the three plagues: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. After taking a position as the medical director of a nursing home, he realized that people were not dying of disease or physical ailments, but diseases of the heart. Anecdotally, he’s known this to be true in his own experience. But, more and more, we’re seeing empirical evidence that these “plagues” contribute to physical ailments and age the body faster.

Take, for example, this study with findings published in The Guardian where researchers found that loneliness was twice as unhealthy as obesity. Tracking more than 2,000 people over the age of 50 found that the loneliest “were nearly twice as likely to die during the six-year study than those that were least lonely.”

There are still more questions to be answered such as why there is no apparent difference in levels of loneliness based on education, work/retirement status, or whether you care for a dependent, but income does appear to affect levels of loneliness. Or, as the AARP Foundation asks, if loneliness is a cause of poor hearing or other physical impairments or if loneliness is the result of the impairments?

More studies are needed to understand and help prevent loneliness in older adults. In the meantime, we’ll share some ways that you can build bridges to social connectedness for you and the older adults in your life. Join us next week for Is loneliness affecting you? Part 2.

Related posts and resources:

6 reasons to break a sweat in 2017  – Your Brain will love it!

Elderhood – What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?

I have a 20-year old brain in an old body

Connect where you live! Find a senior living community near you.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.