We had a chat with Aneta Kryczka, Counselor, LCPC, MA about the signs of depression in seniors and how you can stay connected with your loved ones during this difficult time.
BrightStar Care: How can social distancing affect seniors?
Aneta: It’s all very individualized from person to person, but overall, I would say yes, social distancing certainly can make someone feel lonelier and more isolated. If someone has genetic predisposition for anxiety or depression, the chances are greater for someone to feel more depressed or anxious, especially now that they cannot freely socialize with others. That leaves them more vulnerable to be alone for prolonged periods of time, which could lead to negative thoughts and emotions, as opposed to before when they could go outside, meet with friends or family, or go to the store. Now more than ever, they have been isolated and more exposed to feeding into their thoughts and emotions, which may not always be positive.
BrightStar Care: What are the signs of depression?
Aneta: Depression is often visible to others who are close to their loved one. If your loved one is isolating more, keeping to themselves more, has been expressing more negative thoughts, eating more or less, sleeping more or less, or talking about death, he or she may be dealing with symptoms of depression. I would say one of the major changes a loved one may see if loss of interest in something the senior used to do before.
BrightStar Care: How can family members detect signs of depression if they can't be with their loved one in person?
Aneta: A lot of the time, you know what your loved one sounds like on the phone. If you notice a change in their voice, tone, or speed and notice more negative demeanor, you may want to ask your loved one how they have been feeling and how this has been affecting them. You can certainly ask them if they would like to meet with a professional to talk about how this has been affecting them. Most mental health professionals are using teletherapy to connect with people who may be in such positions, and I am sure family members would be happy to help set up a session for their loved ones. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about your feelings to someone who is not family because a lot of the time we do not want to worry our loved ones with what’s on our minds.
BrightStar Care: How can we stay connected with our elderly loved ones to help ease the anxiety tied to isolation?
Aneta: I know it must be very difficult not to be able to see your loved ones during this time, but try to remember that not visiting them will help ensure that we get to enjoy their company in the future. I know that is easier said than done.
What our elderly parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents all have in common is that they often do not embrace electronics and social media as much as we do. What better time than now to engage them with what they enjoy doing the most – hearing from you. And I am not just talking about you calling or video chatting with them. I’m talking about writing them a letter. Yes, something as simple as a letter. They love reading! They grew up reading letters form their families, friends, loved ones, etc. I remember writing pages and pages of letters to my grandmother who kept all of them and would show immense gratitude for receiving them. I also must admit that receiving letters from my grandmother made me feel very special and always put a smile on my face when I went to the mailbox and saw familiar writing on the envelope.
BrightStar Care: How can writing letters help us stay connected and be present in the moment?
Aneta: I say we embrace this time to give our loved ones a glimpse into their youthfulness and just simply send them a letter. It does not have to be perfect by any means – it just has to come from you! That will not only provide them with an amazing gift of receiving something very personal from you but also allow them to be able to correspond with you in a way that they have not been able to experience in a very long time.
When we write, even as something as simple as a letter, it provides us with the opportunity to be in the moment and be very mindful. Just like that you can catch a break from reality and get in tune with your deeper feelings. Writing will also help you cope better with the stress and tension you have been repressing throughout the day.
I challenge you to write a letter to your loved one by hand because it will help you get more in touch with your feelings. This way, your loved one will be able to feel a part of you and connect with you while reading your letter.
You can get your family involved as well. What better way to keep your children busy, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes! They do not have to sit down and create a masterpiece but can simply draw a picture or turn this into an art project, and I am sure that the loved one on the receiving end will really enjoy seeing that.
I know this situation is not easy for any of us, but I do challenge you to take some time out of your busy and hectic day to sit down, maybe even turn on some relaxing music, and just start writing. Trust me, the ideas will just keep on coming and before you know it, you will be filling pages with things that you have been wanting to say to your loved one but simply did not have the time to.
I hope you find joy in connecting with your loved ones during this time, and I hope you all stay healthy and safe! Let's remember that we are all in this together.