Wednesday, May 4, 2016

8 Ways To Keep Geriatric Depression At Bay

Old age can be great time with the right attitude (Photo credit)
I recently finished a project with a PSU. I had to interview employees of all levels for a training needs survey. The average employee was anywhere between 45 to 59 years of age. Some of them had joined the organisation decades ago soon after they finished their engineering diploma. The ones in their 50’s and nearing retirement are on the verge of a huge transformation. Having to give up a life and routine that they have lived for a good 4 decades of their lives is no small thing. Once they retire, it would be like being thrown out of their comfort zone and find a new way of life for the rest of their life. Imagine having to change the way you’ve lived your life at 60! 

I started chatting with the HR manager about this huge shift and how it might affect these people. She informed me that they conduct an orientation program a couple of months before the employees’ retirement along with their spouses to prepare them for this change.  They are encouraged to take up post retirement hobbies. Whether they actually take that advice, I think, is a whole new matter. 

This set me thinking and I decided to explore a bit online. It's hard to find the latest stats but I found this story on Indian Express from April this year which says there's a record jump in the senior citizen population in India pushing it the all time high. The number of citizens over the age of 60 jumped 35.5 per cent — from 7.6 crore in 2001 to 10.3 crore in 2011. And by 2050, it is likely to hit a whopping 324 million people! Given that state support for the elderly and the retired is minimal in India, the fact that 70% of these are illiterate isn't reassuring. 

Statistics apart, there are real issues these people grapple with like finances and healthcare. Although, what hit me more was the psychological aspect of it. The 'being thrown out of their comfort zone' bit. And what worsens the situation is retired people mostly give up their own self worth. The thought, "there's nothing to do and nowhere to go" starts becoming a reality. And with rising life expectancy and crumbling joint family system, it's no surprise that 25% of the elderly population is depressed. A big reason for this could be the cultural expectation that children should take care of parents. (Especially in India and other Eastern countries) This leaves an empty nest syndrome behind when that does not happen. In my experience, older people abroad are better prepared mentally to lead their retired life in a fulfilling manner. I have seen so many couples traveling on their own and enjoying the time off from responsibilities and making a living. 

I am no expert in geriatric well being. But from observation and experience, there are a few things which I feel can make life productive for people in that age group. 

1. Be mentally prepared: Waking up in the morning and having nowhere to go after a few decades of routine can be quite disturbing. But looking at it as time out for yourself can help reframe the whole situation. It's like a holiday where your homework is done and you can use this time to do something on your own. Approach retirement positively than looking at it as the beginning of a phase of 'doing nothing'.

2. Stay physically active: With advancing years, health inevitably takes a hit. Minus the daily trips to office and back and one might not have reason or motivation to step out. But it's important to keep the body parts moving so that you are mobile and active to enjoy life to the fullest. Take a walk in the park, join an exercise or a yoga/meditation class. This will give you an opportunity to form a social circle and a reason to get dressed and get out. 

3. Find and cultivate hobbies: I am forever eyeing the ever growing list of books I want to read and can't wait to be 'retired'! Think of what is it that you always wanted to do but never found the time to? It’s never too late to start anything. Singing, painting, drawing, travel, art - whatever interests you. Spending time and money on hobbies is much better than wasting it on therapy to cure depression and loneliness. So take control of your life before the demons take that space in your head. 

4. Be happy for your kids: The empty nest syndrome that I mentioned earlier night be hard to cope with. Even when children live with their parents, the demanding jobs today leave little scope for personal time. Be happy for your kids, as long as they are doing well and are healthy. You've given them an empowered value system and now it's their turn to work hard and make a life for themselves. Take pride in their accomplishments. 

5. Travel: If your health and finances permit, travel and see the world. Our own country is bountiful in beautiful sites and cultural richness. Start from your own city. I have realised that what's closest to us is neglected the most. When was the last time you went out to see the monuments in your city, learnt about their rich cultural significance? 

Traveling is one of the best experiences one can have (Photo credit)
6. Volunteer: If you are still left with a lot of energy, make a difference to other people lives. Take up volunteering. You have a lifetime of knowledge and skills which you can pass on to the younger, lesser privileged population. Not very mobile, there are so many online options to explore. No online access? You can take up teaching your favourite subject to kids in your building. For free, if you have financial security; for a nominal fee, if you need that pocket money. 

7. Have a social circle: Most of us are busy with our work and family during the prime of our lives. Friends and relatives do take a back seat at times. So, this is a great time to revive old friendships and maybe make new ones.  There are always groups around your building/colony or your yoga class. Sometimes just a walk in the park everyday is enough to start conversations. 

8. Count your blessings: This one works at any stage in life. We are thrown into rotten situations, lose motivation and want to give so many times through out our lives. We win some, lose some. But having an eye on what we are blessed with will never fail to cheer us up. Your health might not be the best or you may have just enough to get by your expenses. But when you look around, you will certainly find things that light up your life. Things that would leave you worse off in their absence. 

So, if you are retired or know people who are, get them to read this. Pick what appeals to the most and start with one thing. Each phase of life has it's own opportunities and challenges. One could either look at the challenges and give up or turn them into opportunities. Whatever be the situation, the best way to live is to see the what we have and make the most of it. 

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