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Overcoming growing pains of golden years.

Byline: Anne Marie Catalano

If you are 65 or older, it is time to kick up your heels and celebrate: May is Older Americans Month.

And while this is a wonderful time for others to reflect on all that seniors contribute to their families, work and communities, this month-long recognition also provides a great opportunity for seniors to take a look at their health and make a commitment to staying active, healthy and young at heart.

With age comes wisdom, experience and yes, the occasional aches and pains. But it is important that we do not let our age get the better of us. According to, one in five Americans over age 65 suffers from some form of depression. That number is alarming, but not surprising given the loss that seniors face as years pass.

As we grow older, we begin to lose our close friends and relatives, we retire from our careers, and we lose some of our physical capabilities; we are not able to hike as far, run as fast or play as long. It is natural that a bit of sadness would accompany so many life changes. But whether it is depression from sadness or clinical depression caused by a change in brain chemistry, it is important to note that depression in the elderly can often be treated and does not have to be an accepted step in the aging process.

At times, medication may be an option to alleviate depression, but there are many proactive measures the older population can take to maintain their mental and physical health. Keeping the body as well as the mind active is the key to staying young. As one enters retirement, it is sometimes nice to sit back and relax for a while, but it is a great idea to stay involved in the workforce on some level.

Many nonprofit businesses have volunteer opportunities, small jobs where people work as little or as much as they like. Volunteering offers the chance to keep one's mind working while getting out of the house and staying involved in the community.

For those who love to socialize, councils on aging are a great place to meet up with friends old and new. Many senior centers offer activities specifically geared for the retired population, such as bingo, line dancing, informational programs on health topics, and even "how to" lectures on various hobbies, such as gardening or introductory computer courses.

Health clubs are another great venue offering senior-specific physical activities, such as water aerobics. These clubs serve as a nice place to gather socially, and they offer a wonderful way to keep the body fit and limber.

The important thing to remember is to stay involved. If folks can no longer play the sports they once loved, they can look into coaching or even going to the game and working in the concession stand. Simply being there can lift one's spirits. And for those winter months or the days when one just feels like staying home, reading, crossword puzzles, word searches and other games that challenge the brain are a great way to keep your mind sharp.

Pets and children are also fine ways to rejuvenate. Spending time with one's grandchildren or becoming a foster grandparent makes one feel wanted and needed.

And do not underestimate the power of our furry friends. Small dogs, cats and rabbits are nice companions that motivate those with depression to start each day. Animals need to be fussed over and cared for, and it is proven that stroking a pet can lower one's blood pressure.

Families can help their older relatives by visiting often and inviting them to join in activities. Always ask. Never assume a person cannot or would rather not participate in an outing. Family members also should look out for symptoms of depression and intervene if any of these signs last for an extended period of time: sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in hobbies, social isolation, weight loss, sleep disturbances, loss of self worth (oftentimes shown with a neglect of personal care), increased use of alcohol or other drugs and the constant expression of death or suicidal thoughts.

The golden years are a wonderful time to enjoy life and reap the rewards of the lives we built. Keeping the body active and the mind sharp will help to ensure older Americans maintain that 24 karat shimmer.

Anne Marie Catalano, PhD, RN, is the director of the Geriatric Medical Psychiatry Program at Clinton Hospital. This program is the only one if its kind in the immediate area and serves adults and seniors 55 and older who struggle with medical and psychiatric illnesses. For more information, call 978-368-3838 and ask for the medical screener.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 20, 2008
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