Depression & Seniors: 5 Ways You Can Help

Depression affects people of all ages; it really doesn't care if you're a 17-year-old high school student or a 50-something CEO.  Depression is non-discriminating  and will take you down like a starving grizzly bear, given half a chance.

There is one age group that often gets overlooked when it comes to depression and that's the elderly.

In seniors especially, symptoms of depression are sometimes missed or confused with the effects of other illnesses or medication they may be using. Also, the typical symptoms of depression -- such as fatigue, lack of appetite and loss of interest in previously loved activities -- are often put down to the aging process and not depression. Studies on the number of elderly people experiencing depression varies, but it's estimated 6.5 million of Americans over 65 are depressed.

Sadly, only about 10 percent of those people actually receive any help.

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Memento Mori: Remember You’re Mortal

I love the story about how, when generals were parading through the streets of Rome during a victory march, a slave would be tasked with walking behind them saying memento mori -- remember you're mortal.

How great is that? Here's a Roman general, top of the pile, a massive celebrity (like the Jay-Z of his day), and there's this slave reminding him that he's mortal and not to get too high above himself because he too can die.

Personally, I think we need more of that today -- humility and the awareness to realize and accept that we are mortal, destined to die.

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8 Ways to Help Your Aging Parents

As they age, our parents might need more help. But you might not know exactly how to lend a hand or even where to start. Plus, what do you do if your parents balk at your attempts to assist them?

While every situation is unique, Christina Steinorth, MFT, a psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships, offered her suggestions for helping aging parents.

1. Empathize with your parents.

Sometimes you might be taken aback by your parents’ frustration, moody behavior or neediness. In fact, on some days, they might be downright unpleasant to be around. But it’s important to be empathetic and understand where they’re coming from. According to Steinorth, “Aging is a series of losses -- loss of employment, health and energy, friends, mobility, and independence.” Consider how you’d feel if you were in their situation, she said.

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Botox as a Cure for Depression

Washington-based dermatologist Dr. Eric Finzi has released what The New York Times has praised as “the first authorized biography” of Botox, a book investigating how a traditionally cosmetic treatment could be actually be a depression cure.

In The Face of Emotion, Finzi suggests that up to half of all wrinkle-busting procedures can dramatically improve moods, as well as our relationships with others.

And I absolutely agree with his theory -- I’ve been researching this link myself since 2008.

Botox is a cosmetic dermatology practice, where Botulinum Toxin A (Botox is just one brand of this) is injected into frown muscles. This paralyzes them for up to six months. Patients can expect to see smoother, less-lined foreheads, with wrinkles seemingly disappearing to reveal a more youthful look.

Frown muscles are responsible for lines, but are also important in expressing normally negative emotions such as sadness, fear, anger and distress. A Botoxed patient can’t physically form the expressions necessary to portray these emotions; the procedure renders it impossible.

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Who Are These People Who Raised You?

Though much has been written about how to deal with parents who are slowing down physically and mentally, I’ve read nothing about how to deal with parents who have become wiser and kinder.

It may seem like there’s no problem if your parents have become better people. Just count your blessings and get on with life! But it’s not always that simple.

Mike grumbles, “I can’t believe my father wants to be so involved with my kids. When I was growing up, he barely gave me the time of day. “Shut up! Do your homework! Listen to your mother!” That was pretty much the extent of our relationship. And now, he wants to take my son to school, coach his games, take him on a trip. Who is this new person? And how come I got the short end of the stick?”

Kim gripes, “My mother was always on my case. I had to dress right, speak right, eat right and live right. Otherwise, what would people think? Now, when I berate my daughter for not acting properly, my mother comes to her defense, telling me that I’m too hard on her. It makes me furious. She was 10 times harder on me than I am on my daughter. What’s going on here?”

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The Psychology of Flossing

Why is it so tough to remember to floss?

I rarely run into patients who can’t remember to brush their teeth twice a day, but even the most conscientious among us come to their hygiene appointment anxious and awaiting the hygienist’s lecture about flossing.

Flossing can be icky and awkward -- no one likes feeling like they’re shoving their entire fist into their mouth. But the reason why we don’t make flossing a habit is a bit more complicated and has its roots in psychology.

During the early 1900s, right around World War I, dental hygiene was so bad, it was said to be a national security risk. Why? People weren’t brushing their teeth, of course, and the 1900s marks the period when Americans first began to consume sugary, ready-to-eat processed foods, such as crackers, breads, and potato chips.

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Pollution and Well-Being: A Startling Connection

Pollution can be ugly.  Just think of an industrial chimney spewing smog into the air.  It has devastating effects on the environment, plants and wildlife.  And we know that pollution has a negative effect on our physical health.  Since the 1970s, a recent article in Monitor on Psychology reports, we’ve studied the harmful impact of pollution on our cardiovascular and respiratory health.

A growing body of evidence indicates that the impact of pollution goes beyond physical health.  According to the Monitor, researchers have found that high levels of air pollution may damage children’s cognitive abilities, increase adult risk of cognitive decline and may even contribute to depression.

The issue is not as visible or taken as seriously as it should be, according to Paul Mohai, PhD, a professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources.

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12 Depression Busters for Caregivers

Nearly one-third of people caring for terminally ill loved ones suffer from depression according to research from Yale University. About one in four family caregivers meet the clinical criteria of anxiety. And a recent study found that 41 percent of former caregivers of a spouse with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia experienced mild to severe depression up to three years after their spouse had died.

Caregivers are so vulnerable to depression because they often sacrifice their own needs while tending to their loved one and because of the constant stress involved.

So here are 12 tips to help protect you from anxiety and depression and to guide you toward good mental health as you care for a relative.

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Death with Dignity: Why I Don’t Want to Have to Starve Myself to Death

Dr. Ron Pies writes an eloquent defense of why physician-assisted suicide should not be made a legal right in Massachusetts. He compares it to a doctor helping one of his patients jump from a bridge -- something most doctors would never do.

But in making this analogy, I believe we're removing all context and logic from the decision behind wanting to end your own life because of a terminal illness. For the patient, it’s not about the act of suicide or ending their lives -- it’s about alleviating suffering from the disease and choosing one’s own way of dying with a little dignity. It's about patient empowerment, human dignity and choice.

That’s why in the two states where it is legal for doctors to help patients with a terminal illness, it’s referred to as the Death with Dignity law.

Because the alternative takes much of the dignity out of dying in today’s modern medical system.

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Merciful Assistance or Physician-Assisted Killing?

Imagine that your father, age 85, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given only three months to live.

Fortunately, he is still well enough to walk, and finds himself one night near a tall bridge. Having contemplated the suffering he believes will attend his final days, he decides to end his life by jumping off the bridge. However, he is too weak to hoist himself up atop the protective railing.

Suddenly, he sees his very own physician, Dr. Jones, walking by. He begs Dr. Jones to help him climb atop the railing, adding, “Don’t worry, Doc, it will be my decision to jump.” The doctor is taken aback, but quickly determines that his patient is not psychotic or severely depressed, and is capable of making a rational decision regarding suicide. The doctor tries to persuade your dad that pain and suffering can usually be well-controlled during the final days, but the patient is insistent: he wants to end his life.

Would you agree that Dr. Jones is fulfilling his obligations as a physician by assisting your father in jumping off the bridge?

If not, would you support the doctor’s providing your father with a lethal dose of medication?

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12 Depression Busters for Seniors

Roughly a quarter of people age 65 or older suffer from depression. More than half of doctor's visits by the elderly involve complaints of emotional distress. Twenty percent of suicides in this country are committed by seniors, with the highest success rate belonging to older, white men.

According to a recent report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, depression is one of the major causes of decline in the health-related quality of life for senior citizens.

Why all the depression?

Rafi Kevorkian, M.D. calls them the five D's: disability, decline, diminished quality of life, demand on caregivers, and dementia. To combat senior depression, then, requires coming up with creative methods to counter the five D's.

Here are 12 strategies to do just that: help people break free from the prison of depression and anxiety in their senior years.

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