Keeping Sights On Seniors

Keeping Sights on Seniors canstockphoto14106140

It didn't really matter anymore whether the grave site was kept clean or allowed to grow over. Ed would be joining Emily soon enough and then there would be nobody that would visit the site, let alone clean it. But for the sake of whatever reason he couldn't think of, Ed cleared the leaves that had tucked themselves against the grass that bordered the stone. What was he supposed to do here? Think of her? That's all he did all day long anyway. Was being here supposed to give him a sense of comfort? It didn't.

The day was warm and breezy. Not humid like it had been all week.  He slumped back off his haunches into a full Indian-style stance, folding his legs beneath him as would a child a tenth of his age. For 85 he was still pretty agile. He thought about the times in his life there had been troubles and he had been instructed to pray; how he could never really concentrate on that and get to the task. It was more like, "Lord, you know why I'm here--your will be done but try to see it my way. You know the rest." When people talked about praying for hours and hours he could never quite believe they really had. But like that--he was here now and he was supposed to concentrate on her, her passing, his loss, their life together.

Their life together? Uh--maybe that wasn't so good. Maybe he'd rather not think about that. He knew that now that she was gone he tended to forget the bad times and generally concentrate on the good ones but he had to be honest. In their final, days those good times were less common and often hard to remember.

It was the years when they were young and their passle of kids distracted every moment that things seemed better. Something denied is always more desirable and on the occasion they would have some time alone together, they had truly reveled in that moment.  But to be honest those times were so rare they were happier at one of their kids' concerts or athletic events. Rubbing elbows with other parents and guests who often accompanied them to see their children "perform" (grandparents, siblings, neighbors) was easier on both of them. All they had to do was appear united and solid. They could do that by just sitting next to each other. The appearance of things came to pass as an act they mutually understood and performed; for the kids, for the inlaws, teachers, college recruiters, etc. Everyone told their children what solid parents they had and how lucky they were to have them. Ed shook his head considering that all the children lived out of state now, one out of the country.  "If they felt so lucky they'd have probably hung around," he whispered to himself.

What kind of mess had all that pretending created? Ed knew that faking things long enough eventually created a habit. That's how they had come to sleep in seperate beds. At first they mutually agreed that his snoring was denying both of them a good night's sleep. His noise was waking her and at the same time his worry over making that noise prevented restful sleep as he was jittery and uneasy knowing he was keeping her awake if he slipped into that snoreful sleep.

First it was set up that during the work week he'd sleep in the spare room. Then the weekends got absorbed too. They were both just so tired and needed a full night's sleep. Then it was simply relegated to a few nights a week that he would "start" the night in their marital bed and then as they got sleepy, he'd depart. What a formula for disaster. He'd known it then and he was fully aware of it now. He gulped back a throat full of tears and stood. "Sorry Em," he said while patting her stone. "You deserved better."

He walked out of the cemetary and towards home. On the way, he passed the hospital and went through the doors to the dining room.  Here he could get a full dinner for $3 and tonight was their meatloaf special. He filled his tray and paid his $3. He sat alone at an eight-person table and no other single diner seemed interested in occupying any of the adjacent chairs at his table. He finished his coffee and depositied his tray. Back on the street and heading for home, he glanced around. There were children playing at the playground, mothers walking with strollers, joggers with their fancy headsets on and the buzz of lawnmowers in the background. A beautiful day; one that would make a person glad to be alive.

Ed wasn't. He keyed into his home, leafed through the mail that had been pushed through the slot and onto the floor and indifferently turned on the television. He sat there in front of it, if only for the noise of some other being in the house. Eventually he drifted off to sleep and awoke around 2 a.m. Should he change clothes and go to bed? Why bother, he'd just have to get dressed again in a few hours.  He decided to stay right where he was and he drifted back off until daylight. Who would care? Who would even notice?

Like everyone, Ed's life had some success and some regret but as we age and find ourselves alone, there is a lot more time to concentrate on what went right and wrong and perhaps what we should have and could have done to change that. When the realization sets in that it is a little too late to do anything about that which didn't go so well, it is very easy for depression to set in.

All people feel sad or unhappy at times during their lives, but persistent sadness may be depression, a serious illness affecting 15 out of every 100 adults over age 65 in the United States. Depression is not a normal part of growing old, but rather a treatable medical illness that impacts more than 6 million of the more than 40 million Americans over age 65.

When depression occurs in late life, it may be a relapse of an earlier depression. If it is a first-time occurrence, it may be triggered by another illness, hospitalization, or placement in a nursing home. Unlike the onset of depression in non-elderly populations, depression in the elderly is thought to be a psychological disorder triggered by specific stressors, such as medical illness. Another causal factor is grief following the death of a loved one.

An estimated 6 percent of people ages 65 and older in a given year, or approximately 2-million individuals in this age group, have a diagnosable depressive illness.

Depression affects approximately 25 percent of those with chronic illness and is particularly common in patients with ischemic heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic lung disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Most disturbing among depression statistics is the fact that depression affects upwards of 50 percent of nursing home residents.

Clinical depression is characterized by symptoms that interfere with the ability to function normally for a prolonged period of time. The symptoms of depression in older adults vary greatly and may include:

  • Persistent sadness lasting two or more weeks

  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

  • Feeling slowed down

  • Withdrawing from regular social activities

  • Excessive worries about finances and health problems

  • Pacing and fidgeting

  • Feeling worthless or helpless

  • Weight/appearance changes or frequent tearfulness

  • Thoughts of suicide or death.

Statistics Provided by the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation

The Following Suggestions are provided by HELPGUIDE.ORG :

It’s a myth to think that after a certain age you can’t learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people of learning new things and adapting to new ideas. Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones.  If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the better you’ll feel.

Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. The best part is that the benefits come without side effects. You don’t have to hit the gym to reap the rewards. Look for small ways you can add more movement to your day: park farther from the store, take the stairs, do light housework, or enjoy a short walk. Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.

Connect with others. Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. You may not feel like reaching out, but make an effort to connect to others and limit the time you’re alone. If you can’t get out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or email.

Bring your life into balance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and the pressures of daily life, it may be time to learn emotional management skills with the help of a therapist or support group.

Get enough sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, and take a daily multivitamin.

Participate in activities you enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.

Volunteer your time.  Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.

Take care of a pet. A pet can keep you company, and walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.

Learn a new skill. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.

Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at