November 18, 2008
Table of Contents
Stress and Depression in Seniors
SFA author Jim Evans is a 40-year veteran of the health-fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior fitness consultant. In the following three articles, Jim answers older adults' questions on a variety of topics related to psychoemotional health.
Exercise and Mood State
DEAR JIM: My husband has suffered some serious physical problems since he turned 70 -- he's 72 now -- and it has soured his attitude about life in general. In fact, he seems to be pessimistic about almost everything, and nobody wants to be around him anymore, including me. I love him dearly, but his negative attitude is dragging him (and everyone else around him) down. Surely this can't be healthy for him. What can I do to get him out of this "funk" and back to the world of the living again? FUNKED OUT IN FAIRFIELD
DEAR FUNKED OUT: For one thing, try to get him moving. According to the Mayo Clinic, even as little as 10 to 15 minutes of exercise a day can improve mood. "It's not a magic bullet, but increasing physical activity is a positive and active strategy to help manage depression and anxiety," says Kristin Vickers-Douglas, PhD, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Dr. Vickers-Douglas continues, "Exercise raises the levels of certain mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain and boosts feel-good endorphins, releases muscle tension, helps you sleep better, and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also increases body temperature, which may have calming effects. All of these changes in your mind and body can improve such symptoms as sadness, anxiety, irritability, stress, fatigue, anger, self-doubt, and hopelessness." (For more information, click on MayoClinic.com.)
Try to convince your husband to take a daily walk with you. Exercise doesn't have to be a regimented workout, just something consistent. The fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity should combine for a positive effect, and it might also help you to reconnect with each other in a positive way. If he is resistant to even taking a walk, or if several days of walking have no discernible benefit, seek professional help because he may need more than just an attitude adjustment. Your husband may be experiencing a form of depression, and exercise is not intended to replace appropriate medical treatment.
Since depression does not have a single cause, his medical problems may or may not be a factor in his behavior. Moreover, depression is not just a state of mind -- it is related to real physical changes in the brain. According to the National Institute of Health, men have a lower risk of depression but are also less likely to seek help than women. From your description of your husband's attitude, he may not be receptive to your suggestions to walk or to seek medical attention, so you may have to take things into your own hands to see that he receives the help he needs.
In the meantime, don't let his depressed attitude affect you. Understand that he may have a very real medical problem -- other than the physical problems that he has been experiencing -- and don't play the "blame game" by blaming yourself for anything. Take a walk by yourself every day if he won't walk with you. Clear your head and take care of yourself so that you can be strong for the two of you. The treatment of depression is very individualized, but the condition can be treated successfully.
Obesity and Social Withdrawal
DEAR JIM: My wife and I are both 78, but that seems to be the only thing we have in common anymore. I have always been physically active and still weigh the same as I did in high school. However, my wife has an abhorrence for exercise or physical activity of any kind and is more than 100 pounds overweight. When we were younger we did social things as a couple, but now she just wants to sit around the house doing nothing. She is beginning to develop health issues. She won't go anywhere anymore, and I feel a growing resentment in our relationship. What can I do to motivate my wife to become more physically active and socially engaged -- and, hopefully, save our marraige of 55 years? FRUSTRATED IN FRESNO
DEAR FRUSTRATED: I am not a marriage counselor, but it is not unusual for married couples to grow apart when weight is an issue. You are both headed in different directions at a time in your life when you should be enjoying a lifetime of memories and experiences together.
Your wife may be suffering from some form of depression, which could account for her withdrawal. While exercise is not a cure for depression, its psychological and physical benefits can improve the symptoms of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic and other reputable medical sources.
Exercise can also help one lose weight. But what to do if your wife hates exercise? Many older adults associate exercise with muscle soreness or even a humiliating experience in gym class back in their school days. Try engaging her in some other form of activity that she won't relate to exercise, like dancing or even a simple walk around the block. Beginner yoga and tai chi are also forms of exercise that she might consider because of their relative low intensity.
She might be too embarrassed or self-conscious about her weight to leave the privacy and security of home, so perhaps you could purchase a ballroom dance (or yoga or tai chi) DVD that you can both watch together -- and do together.
Evening walks -- after dark -- are also a great way to exercise together. Dress appropriately for the weather, of course, and hold hands. Make it fun. Take a different route every night, change the pace, walk backwards, talk to each other.
Touch and communication -- and sharing -- can go a long way to restoring your personal relationship while helping your wife to become more active and socially engaged again. Weight loss will be a natural and positive consequence of the increased physical activity. Start now -- don't wait for things to become worse. Your marriage and your wife's health might depend on it. Keep in mind that professional marriage counseling may also be beneficial.
Dealing with Debt Stress
DEAR JIM: My husband and I have been retired for several years, but the present state of the economy is wreaking havoc with our investments and causing us a lot of physical and mental stress. We're both in our eighties and can't start over again, but we find ourselves in debt just trying to meet our living expenses. We are having trouble sleeping, and I'm worried because my husband seems so depressed. How can we deal with this pressure and maintain our health? STRESSED OUT IN SAN DIEGO
DEAR STRESSED OUT: The present state of the economy is having an adverse effect on more than just the pocketbook. According to a recent Associated Press-AOL Health Poll, debt stress is impacting the health of as many as 10 to 16 million people in the United States.
The ailments you are experiencing due to debt stress coincide with some of the complaints reported in the poll. For example, 27 percent of those polled suffered from ulcers or digestive tract problems; 44 percent had migraines or other headaches; 29 percent suffered severe anxiety; 23 percent had severe depression; six percent reported heart attacks (twice the rate of those with low debt stress); and 51 percent had muscle tension.
The human body is capable of dealing with stress naturally, but when stress continues unabated for a prolonged period of time, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate and produce problems with memory, mood, digestion, and the immune system. I can't help you with your financial problems, of course -- you should check with your financial expert for that -- but I can give you some valuable suggestions for dealing with the stress.
First of all, start your day -- every morning -- by getting out of bed with gusto as soon as your feet hit the floor. Your attitude will set the tone for the entire day, so think positively. Eat breakfast, whether you feel like it or not, and then get out of the house! The more you sit around and dwell on the problem, the more the problem will grow out of proportion to reality. So, don't stare at the walls worrying about something over which you may or may not have any control. The one thing you can control with certainty is the way in which you take care of yourself so that you are better able to cope with your financial problems physically and mentally.
Plan a walk outdoors together each morning, taking a different path every day even if you have to drive a short distance to get to the starting point. If the weather is inclement, find a local shopping mall or, worse case scenario, turn to the travel channel on your TV and walk in place beside each other in the middle of your living room. The whole idea is to try to stay physically active because exercise boosts natural hormones in your body that make you feel better. It also relieves tension, helps you sleep better, and reduces stress -- symptoms you are experiencing as a result of your mounting debt.
Your financial consultant can advise you on your financial problems, and your doctor can help you with any medical issues. Meanwhile, you can be responsible for taking good care of yourselves. No matter how bad something might seem, it isn't worth forfeiting your health worrying about it. You will be better able to cope with your debt if you don't let it overwhelm you. Let's put it this way: Sacrificing your health isn't going to make your debt go away, is it? I think you get the message. Good luck to you both!
Help Out Some Friends
Our adopted nursing home, the John Hainkel Home & Rehabilitation Center of New Orleans, had a difficult time recently during Hurricane Gustav. All of the residents and staff had to be evacuated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a week to wait out the storm. While there, the Baton Rouge facility lost power which was hard on the seniors and their caregivers alike. Thankfully, everyone remained safe and all are back at home again now.
The American Senior Fitness Association adopted the Hainkel facility after Hurricane Katrina. We also adopted a homeless kitten rescued near New Orleans after the disaster. Named Gumbo, he now serves as the mascot for our nursing home adoption project.
If you can help the residents of our adopted nursing home with a small tax deductible donation, please:
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