Our “golden years” are generally thought of as the period in which we comfortably transition into our final stage of life and enjoy the fruits of our labor. I’m looking forward to my golden years, when I can sit back, relax, and enjoy life. I won’t have to go to work, and I’ll be treated with great respect due to my experience and wisdom. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

Unfortunately, for many seniors, the golden years are often blue. As we age, we experience many losses. Loss is painful — whether it’s someone you love, a loss of independence, mobility, or your health. Grieving over these losses is normal and healthy, even if the feelings of sadness last for a long time. Most of us can relate to feeling sad or blue, sometimes for days at a time.

These sad feelings can lead us to feel less interested in enjoyable activities, make us lose our appetite or disrupt sleep. While there’s no set timetable for grieving, if it doesn’t let up over time or extinguishes all signs of joy, e.g., laughing at a good joke, brightening in response to a hug, appreciating a beautiful sunset, it may be depression.

Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression isn’t always easy, since they share many symptoms. However, there are ways to tell the difference. Grief is a roller coaster involving a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you’re grieving, you’ll still have moments of pleasure or happiness. With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.

Even doctors and family members may miss the signs of depression because of the fact that older people are expected to slow down. We think of a depressed person as being sad, hopeless, tearful, and withdrawn. But depression doesn’t always fit a typical picture in older adults. As a result, only 10% get treatment, forcing many older people to struggle unnecessarily with depression.

However, ignoring depression can have serious consequences, and may:

● Increase the risk of falls and disability

● Increase the risk of dementia or cognitive impairment

● Worsen the effects of other health conditions

● Cause short-term brain function changes: slower processing speed, poor concentration, and more trouble with planning and social interaction

● Increase the risk of death by suicide

In fact, the very nature of depression interferes with a person’s ability to seek help, draining energy and self-esteem. For seniors, who were raised in a time when mental illness was highly stigmatized, it can be difficult to seek help. Especially if they don’t believe depression is a real illness, are too proud or ashamed to ask for assistance, or fear becoming a burden to their families.

Therefore, it’s important to realize that depression isn’t an inevitable part of getting older — nor is it a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It can happen to anyone, at any age, no matter your background or your previous accomplishments in life. No matter what challenges you face as you age, there are steps you can take to feel happy and hopeful once again and enjoy your golden years.

Also, never assume that a loss of mental sharpness is just a normal sign of old age. It could be a sign of either depression or dementia, both of which are common in older adults. Depression and dementia share many similar symptoms, including memory problems, sluggish speech and movements, and low motivation, so it can be difficult to tell the two apart.

Whether cognitive decline is caused by dementia or depression, it’s important to see a doctor right away. If it’s depression, proper treatment will improve memory and concentration, and energy will bounce back. If it’s dementia, proper treatment will also improve your quality of life. And in some types of dementia, symptoms can be reversed, halted, or slowed.

Of course, there are “self-help” things you can do on your own. It’s a myth to think that after a certain age older adults can’t learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so as an older adult, you’re just as capable as a young person of learning new things and adapting to new ideas that can help you recover from depression.

When you’re depressed, taking action and putting self-help steps into action can be hard. Overcoming depression involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones. To help, here are four self-help tips I found online from

Self-help Tip 1: Reach out and stay connected

If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation only makes depression worse. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. That’s why support matters — so make an effort to connect to others and limit the time you’re alone. If you can’t get out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or email.

But remember digital communication isn’t a replacement for face-to-face contact. Do your best to see people in person on a daily basis. Your mood will thank you! And remember, it’s never too late to build new friendships. Join a depression support group. Being with others facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation.

Get out into the world. Try not to stay cooped up at home all day. Go to the park, take a trip to the hairdresser, have lunch with a friend, visit a museum, or go to a concert or a play.
Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.

Take a class or join a club to meet like-minded people. Try joining a senior center, a book club, or another group of people with similar interests. Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.

Tip 2: Find meaning and purpose in life

To overcome depression it’s important to continue to feel engaged and enjoy a strong purpose in life. As we age, life changes and you can lose things that previously occupied your time and gave life its meaning. Retirement, the loss of close friends or loved ones, relocating away from your social network, and changes in your physical health, finances, or status can impact your mood, confidence, and sense of self-worth.

Instead of focusing on what you once did, try focusing on the things you can do. You’ll see just how much you still have to offer. Learn a new skill. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity — a musical instrument, a foreign language, or a new game or sport, for example. Learning new activities not only adds meaning and joy to life but can also help to maintain your brain health and prevent mental decline.

Get involved in your community. Try attending a local event, tutoring kids, or volunteering for a cause that’s important to you. Community work can be a great way of utilizing and passing on the skills you honed in your career — without the commitment or stress of regular employment.

Take pride in your appearance. But putting effort into how you look each morning can give your self-confidence a welcome boost and improve how you feel. Everyone has different idea about what brings meaning and purpose to life. The important thing is to find activities that are both meaningful and enjoyable for you. The more you nourish your spirit, the better you’ll feel.

Tip 3: Adopt healthy habits

When you’re depressed, it can be hard to find the motivation to do anything — let alone look after your health. But the better care you take of your body, the better you’ll feel. There’s scientific evidence that exercise helps with late-life depression symptoms. Exercise is a powerful depression treatment. In fact, research suggests it can be just as effective as antidepressants.

And you don’t have to suffer through a rigorous workout to reap the benefits. Take a short walk now and see how much better you feel. Anything that gets you up and moving helps. Look for small ways to add more movement to your day: park farther from the store, take the stairs, do light housework or gardening. It all adds up.

Many older adults struggle with sleep problems, particularly insomnia. But lack of sleep makes depression worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. You can help yourself get better quality sleep by avoiding alcohol and caffeine, keeping a regular sleep schedule, and making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.

Sunlight can help boost serotonin levels, improve your mood, and cope with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours and expose yourself to the sun for at least 15 minutes a day. Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled, try to sit in a chair or wheelchair in the sun a few minutes each day.

Tip 4: Know when to seek professional help

If you’re worried that someone is depressed, don’t take it personally if you can’t seem to cheer them up. Depression is a medical illness that takes time and professional guidance to get better. Help your loved one find a good doctor, accompany them to appointments, and offer moral support.

If you think the person is seriously considering suicide, seek help right away. The Institute on Aging Friendship Line is both a crisis intervention center and a “warm” line for routine, even daily, phone calls that provide emotional support, medication reminders and well-being check-ins. The Friendship Line is 1-800-971-0016 anytime, day or night, seven days a week. Or for emergencies, call 911 if necessary.


Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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