Daily Herald American Heart Association
Mental well-being vital to physical health & longevity

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"It's a relationship building opportunity and wonderful for everyone," Hirasawa explains. "Our seniors tell us that many times they miss their own grandchildren who may live in another state or that their children are grown and they don't have the opportunity for youthful interactions. For those with fading verbal skills lost to dementia, the unwavering love and acceptance of a child can mean the world."

Advocate Lutheran General's Adult Day Care client Olga Warsey of Lisle and Megan Kenny from the Children's Day Care program interact with books and toys during a unique intergenerational program.

In addition to adult day care options, seniors and their caregivers say continuing education classes, social clubs and organizations, docent and volunteer work or even adopting a pet may provide stimulating activities and brain challenges. Their recommendations may be on track, according to the National Centers for Disease Control, which reports that pets can provide a healthy influence by helping to decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels as well as alleviate feelings of loneliness.

The blues or something more?

Hope may spring eternal this time each year, but not everyone can be optimistic and happy when life stacks the deck with change and stress. Even some of life's happiest moments can be stressful, leaving many feeling sad and blue.

However, according to mental health experts, the "blues" also can be clinical depression, an illness affecting 9.5 percent of the population more than 19 million Americans each year.

If you have depression, you are not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older, about 2 million suffer from full-blown depression. Another five million suffer from less severe forms of the illness.

"Depression is a very real illness that can be treated effectively," says Carol Wozniewski, executive director, Mental Health America of Illinois. "Unfortunately, fewer than half those with the illness seek treatment. Too many believe it is a normal part of life and that they can treat it themselves."

Her message to those suspecting something more than the blues?

"Seek help," she advises. "By caring for your mental health and getting help when you need it, you can grow and enjoy life at any age. Seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not a weakness."

What is a depressive disorder?

A depressive disorder is one that involves the body, mood and thoughts, according to experts at the National Institute of Mental Health. It can affect the way a person eats, sleeps, feels about themselves and the way one thinks about things. They caution it is not the same as a passing blue mood. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or even years.

"Growing old certainly involves a variety of life transitions and stressors that can lead to depression," says Kathy Cordes, social worker and counselor at Provena Mercy Medical Center, Aurora. "Families thin, friends move, children leave home, medical issues arise, serious illness strikes a lifelong friend, or your spouse all are factors which can lead to depression."

Types of depressive disorders

Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms and can interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat and even enjoy pleasurable activities. While such a major episode may only occur once, experts caution it more commonly occurs several times throughout a lifetime. Without treatment it may have up to an 80 percent rate of recurrence.

Dysthymia is another less severe, type of depression, involving longterm, chronic symptoms. While they don't disable, symptoms may keep sufferers from functioning well or feeling good.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is not nearly as prevalent as other types of depression. It is typified by a cycling of mood changes ranging from extreme highs (mania) to lows (depression). In the manic phase, sufferers may have excessive energy, be over-talkative or overactive, resulting in clouded judgment, irrational thinking and potentially-embarrassing social consequences.

Untreated depression poses serious risks for older adults, including illness, alcohol and prescription drug abuse, a higher mortality rate, and even suicide. Mental health experts say it's important to watch for the warning signs and seek professional help when you recognize it. The good news is that with treatment and support, depressed seniors can feel better.


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