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Published on: October 31, 2014
by Jeff Friedman for Bandon Western World:
Ageism is a kind of discrimination against older people supported by a number of false assumptions. For example, at one time many psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists espoused a concept called “detachment theory.” This theory postulated that it was normal for people to become less involved in all aspects of life as they aged, that is, to become socially isolated and less productive.
It was also thought normal that many older people would naturally become depressed. Fortunately, ongoing research has dispelled these toxic beliefs but the question becomes: What can people do for themselves and others to maximize quality of life in old age?
What you can do to help yourself
1. Depression is a treatable mental illness and should not be ignored. Most people respond to medication, or counseling, or both. Since chronic illnesses tend to increase with age, it is important to understand that treating depression may well facilitate treatment of co-occurring illnesses.
2. Discuss with your health care provider what sort of exercise program might be appropriate for you.
3. Assess the utility of your support system and consider reaching out to family and friends and, if possible, make some new friends.
4. Exercise your brain. There are many brain games available on line. Even consider learning a new language.
5. Try to have a sense of purpose in life. Utilize the skills you have acquired. Consider volunteer work.
6. Some people, as they grow older, find it useful to engage in “life review.” Reminiscing about important past events perhaps can help you make greater sense of your life and assist in coming to improved self-understanding. This can occur in a number of ways including sharing memories with friends and family and journaling.
7. Learn some skills that will help you not become overwhelmed. For example, consider daily meditation and other relaxation approaches such as yoga. Practice problem-solving: If you are having difficulty accomplishing a task, divide it into doable parts. Find some healthy ways to reward yourself when you succeed. When you’re having a particularly difficult, stressful day, call a friend. Just contacting someone who will listen sympathetically can help a great deal.
8. Practice “sleep hygiene.” As one ages, falling asleep and staying asleep can become problematic. A good night’s sleep facilitates improved health and daytime coping. Limit caffeine intake after noon. An hour before bedtime, turn off the television and turn off some lights. When you go to bed make sure the bedroom is as dark as possible. If you’re not asleep after a half hour or so, get up and sit in the living room until you feel drowsy. It’s all right to read, but don’t watch television. Repeat this procedure as needed. Try to get up around the same time each morning (preferably not too late) and get some morning light.
9. Have your vision and hearing checked on a regular basis. Auditory and visual errors can masquerade as, or exacerbate, mental illness.
What you can do to help others
1. Be a confidant. Establish a relationship of trust with an isolated older person.
2. Provide practical assistance (help with chores and transportation, etc. In doing so you also provide opportunities for socialization.
3. Facilitate access to a health care provider, if necessary.
4. As mentioned above, depression is not necessarily correlated with old age, but some isolated older people are in the high risk category for suicide. Take threats of suicide seriously and arrange for help.
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