Seniors Losing Independence and Combating Depression
Feeling guilty, overwhelmed, fearful, withdrawn, and feeling as I am a burden – oh my gosh! – what unfortunate emotions, and these are all the answers I received when I asked elderly friends how they felt about losing their independence.
When the time comes that we are no longer able to do everything for ourselves, an adjustment in mental attitude becomes necessary.
Some of the losses will be temporary and some will be permanent lifestyle changes due to loss of physical or cognitive capacity. True, some of this loss comes gradually, as older people have less energy and less flexibility. Physically, it is more taxing to arrange activities and outings; getting together with friends and family takes a toll while at the same time bringing much needed pleasure. But definitely the continuum of energy goes downhill. This is expected and we are learning to live with it. However, when the time comes that we are no longer able to do everything for ourselves, an adjustment in mental attitude becomes necessary. Not only could this lead to social loss, it becomes apparent that our world of help needs expansion.
Those who undergo elective procedures often have time to prepare themselves, knowing loss of independence will be temporary. Illness doesn’t give that preparation time. Accepting good will and care from others requires an emotional adjustment. A couple of examples in which adjustment is needed are hearing and heart issues. Hearing loss can lead to avoidance of social situations due to fear of being looked upon as needing extra help, like the repetition of words. Heart problems can lead to shortness of breath and not keeping up with others. This might lead to less involvement and even loss of some relationships.
With each loss, the need for more care occurs. Some people do not have available caregivers so not only do they deal with loss of independence, they have the struggle of finding good people to attend to them. All that being said, a suggestion might be taken from Colby Ravetto of LivHome who presented a Webinar on “The Myth of Independence.” He stated that aspects of dependence and independence can be blended in a fluid manner, called interdependence, which is a reciprocal relationship giving you the opportunity to receive and give with grace. This can be a potential cure for loneliness, boredom and hopelessness. But, you have to work at it and look for opportunities to give back and do onto others. Instead of saying, “I can do it myself” you could say, “We can do it” or “Let me do this for you.” In this way you accept help from another while giving back rather than just pushing people away because you think you should be independent. You become co-independent with your care partner.
Permanent loss of independence through aging, whether it is physically or cognitively induced, can lead to serious depression. Feeling sad and frustrated becomes a part of daily living and work must be done to keep a senior from feeling as a failure for not doing what was their normal set of activities. Watching for and treating depression is an important measure and truly, depression does come.
A few thoughts include developing patience and self-acceptance. Keeping an open mind and accepting suggestions are helpful at the time when you ask for help, pay for help, and accept help. Plan against depression by finding things to motivate yourself. Try journaling or sketching or some way of getting your feelings out. When you’re depressed your energy levels can drop and the last thing you want to do when feeling down is to keep yourself from getting up. Activity fights depression so plan a way to get your heart rate up to help you feel better emotionally. Confiding in a friend or voicing your struggles can lighten your burden. Think of activities you used to do that raised your spirits, then reinvent them. Find the treatment that works for you and remember that depression is a very common and highly treatable disease. Help yourself by giving another person the opportunity to feel good about helping you and then reverse the process.