When an older adult lives alone, you may be worried that they could be depressed or lonely, especially if their social habits have changed. How do you know if there’s a problem or if they’re truly happy? And if they are lonely or depressed, how can you help? To answer these questions, The Dollar Stretcher shares helpful advice and personal stories from readers in their community.
– Question –
You seem to have a lot of good information regarding the care of aging parents, so I have a question. My mother is in her late 70s and lives alone. My father passed away about 18 months ago.
Since his passing, my mother has left the house less and less. She no longer goes out to lunch with friends or attends her exercise classes at the gym. About the only time she leaves the house other than to grocery shop is to get her hair done or go to church.
I don’t think it is a physical health issue, and when I visit with her, she does not appear to be depressed, but she is very good at putting on a good face. I am worried it could also be a financial issue.
Has anyone else gone through this with a parent that could give some helpful insight? How do you start this conversation? And how do you help someone who normally would never accept help?
– Concerned Daughter
– Answers –
Ask your mom to help you with a project, something altruistic, like volunteering at the local soup kitchen to feed the homeless. Asking her to assist you will be hard for a mom to refuse, but it will give her a purpose once she does it and sees the need to help out at the homeless shelter.
It can be a mom-and-daughter project that will give you time together doing a good deed for others. And it gets her out and interacting with others.
She May Need Help
I was a caregiver and a supervisor of caregivers for 10 years, taking care of the elderly. Make sure she is eating, bathing, and attending to herself. If she is not, your mother may be extremely depressed. She needs help now. Don’t wait. Call her physician and get her a check-up. If they don’t help or ignore you, call your area mental health hot line now.
If it is at all possible, visit her at least three times per week or more often. There are many programs available for a low fee or free. Your area’s senior citizen center or even your city’s health department can get you directed to help.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Sometimes when a spouse dies, the other spouse becomes a third wheel in their social group and feels (or actually is) left out. Why not invite your mother out yourself? This might make it easier to start the conversation.
Despite not appearing depressed, your mother may be depressed. Other than low mood, other signs of depression are eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, isolating oneself, anger, irritability and loss of interest in one’s normal interests.
While these conversations are not easy, I suggest starting with the fact that you have noticed she is not doing the things she did before your father died. Hopefully, she will volunteer some information. If not, continue to talk using open-ended statements that she can respond to.
If your mother has not had a medical check-up in a while, it might be wise for her to have one. Fatigue is another reason for curtailing one’s activities. While it can be a sign of depression, it can also be a sign of many other illnesses.
Having a Companion
Our answer was to get her a companion. We hired a friend’s daughter to come and visit with her and help her read her correspondence, sit with her, and just talk. We phrased it as a favor to the girl. It was her first “companion job” and my mom would be “teaching her” a valuable skill.
– Van in AL
Contact Her Church
You mentioned church. Does her church or some other nearby have a program for elders?
My church has a program called Prime Timers. They meet once a month and have lunch and a speaker or some other program. The cost is very small, and the folks have time to visit. There is also the Kindred Spirits, which is a dinner group for women of all ages. They meet at a different restaurant each month for food and conversation. I hope this is useful.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Don’t just assume that because your parent no longer wishes to go, go, go that anything is wrong. As an older person myself, I’m perfectly happy staying in much of the time.
I was always more introverted and would have preferred to stay home much more than I was allowed to, but so long as I was married with children, I had no option. It is very possible that you mother is entirely comfortable just finally being able to take it easy at her own pace without having to answer to anyone else in the world.
Before jumping to conclusions, it would be best to observe her and ask her if everything is okay. If you’re thinking it’s a financial issue, offer her a day out on you as a treat and see her reaction. If she’s game, then maybe it’s a matter of money, but if she’d prefer not to go, that’s her right to choose.
Have an Honest Conversation
After my mom died, my dad had to be moved into assisted living. He was always very outgoing and social, but all of a sudden, he wasn’t and was sleeping a lot more. I finally sat down with him and asked him to be honest about how he was doing.
He finally admitted he was depressed. I pointed out that he was still in mourning, but he assured me he knew the difference between the two states. We decided to talk to his doctor, who prescribed some anti-depression meds. He was dubious at first, but they really helped. Although he was still sad, he was more himself. He stayed on them for three years until he passed.
Let Her Be
Maybe she is just glad to have some quiet time. Does she have an active hobby? Does she read a lot? Maybe she is catching up on those things. As long as she is healthy and not in need of anything, you could just let her alone.
I am 68 and like staying home. My son is often on my case, but I like staying home in the quiet, listening to music I like, and playing games or watching movies on the computer.
You cannot force participation in social activities. I bet she is still grieving. Why don’t you set up a regular date to go out for breakfast, lunch or dinner? I bet she would love that, and it might trigger a new interest in life.
Even if it doesn’t, you will not regret investing in your mother’s life. As a mother, there is nothing I would enjoy more than spending a little time with my child.
Go to Her Next Doctor’s Visit
You are wonderful for being so attentive and caring. Losing a life partner and facing the reality of aging alone can be challenging. If you think the change in social habits is financial, you could give your mother gift cards to some of the places that she frequented with her friends or offer to gift her a class for seniors.
Be aware though that she could simply be losing interest and you may want to accompany her to her next doctor’s visit to discuss the change.
Find Online Support
I am a caregiver for my very ill sister, and I found the website AgingCare.com. It is an invaluable (free) resource for anyone dealing with being a caregiver, elderly relatives, nursing homes, etc.
One can write a question and receive very thoughtful and helpful responses from others who have dealt with the same issues. You can also read questions and answers in various categories without posting a question yourself. I hope this helps. Many people have been in your situation (and mine). This site has been absolutely wonderful for me. I have learned a lot and received so much support.
Recommended for you:
- 10 Ways to Help Seniors Deal with Isolation and Depression
- How to Prevent Social Isolation in Seniors
- Low Cost Therapy Options Help Caregivers Cope with Stress
Guest contributor: Originally published in The Dollar Stretcher.com – a site dedicated to “Living Better…for Less” since 1996. You’ll find an active section addressing the financial issues of baby boomers.
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