Seniors and Sadness

By:  Cynthia Sender


Many Seniors suffer from some form of depression, social isolation, or general sadness, especially during and immediately following the holiday period.  There may be many contributing factors, from loneliness, to physical challenges that necessitate the need for potentially mood-altering medications, to just being disconnected from family, as they are often scattered in different areas.

I was talking with a therapist colleague of mine, Julie Chin, LMFT, for some insight into this issue.  Julie suggested that as seniors age they begin to take stock of their lives, and when they do, they will fall into one of two categories:  satisfied, or regretful.  They will either feel content with the course of their lives, their accomplishments, their relationships and feel good about where they ended up — or, they will have regrets and not feel fulfilled, or content with the position they find themselves in.  This is categorized by the sentiments expressed as “I wish I…”

For the more common scenario of loneliness, seniors can be connected to community resources and activities to resolve their feeling of isolation.  Most community senior centers have many social activities to plug into, such as classes, exercise facilities, card clubs, scheduled outings and cultural events, in addition to the meals programs that provide hot lunch daily.

For more deep-seated issues, such as chronic depression, geriatric clients may benefit from professional help and guidance to develop coping strategies, or determine if medication would be appropriate.  There are psychotherapists who work exclusively with the senior population and provide families with tools necessary to help their loved ones minimize their sadness.

Some warning signs your loved one is in danger of prolonged depression include:

Separating themselves from activities and making excuses to avoid participation

Not grooming /showering or other personal hygiene changes

Not eating regular meals – poor nutrition or loss of interest in eating

Sleeping changes – sleeping a lot more or less than usual

If you notice several of these warning signs, it may be time to consult with a professional to develop a plan of care.

There is also significant research which indicates the benefits of daily exercise extend beyond the obvious physical benefits.  Exercise is not only linked to brain health, but also positive mood and lower rates of depression.  In fact, according to the latest research on Alzheimer’s, the same recommendations to maintain brain health and heart health apply:  150 minutes per week of moderate exercise will stave off the onset of certain types of dementia or slow its progress.  Physical activity keeps blood flowing, boosting oxygen consumption, which helps the brain work more efficiently, preserving functioning.

In summary, the key to warding off depression is engagement.  There are many community-based programs, from Adult Day Health Centers, meals programs, senior centers, churches, and service organizations offering opportunities to stay connected.  Many also offer transportation to these facilities.  If you know a senior who appears isolated, reaching out is a good first step!

For more information regarding counseling options, contact Julie Chin at