Seniors living on their own are susceptible to social isolation, which in turn can bring on feelings of depression. Those who move into assisted living have the opportunity to overcome social isolation by interacting with other residents and by participating in group activities.
First of all, it’s important to understand that depression is not a “natural” part of aging. Some common triggers that may cause major depression include loss of a loved one, which many older adults experience; major life changes, which for many older adults would entail a move to assisted living; and social isolation, which is a typical condition for older adults who live alone or don’t interact with others at assisted living.
Why Depression Occurs
Alixandra Foisy, LCSW, RYT, a private therapist and consultant working in issues related to aging based in Blacksburg, Va., confirms that depression is not an inherent condition associated with growing older.
“I’ve done a lot of work with students and have found there to be a lot of depression present in the Millennial generation,” Foisy says. “Depression can happen at any time. It is not age-related. There are certain things that happen across the lifespan that may cause you to be depressed, such as not being able to be yourself or not being able to fulfill what you want out of life. Depression often is related to the fear of what’s going to come next and ambiguity in life.”
For older adults, fear and ambiguity may very well be associated with a move to assisted living. Anxiety and even depression are natural human reactions to a new living situation and being thrust into new social circles. “It’s a risky prospect no matter where we are in life,” Foisy observes. “Uncertainty really throws people into a tailspin.”
An Easier Adjustment
Those older adults who are receptive to new activities will find the social adjustment to assisted living easier. As SeniorAdvisor.com confirms, social activities are among the top reasons that seniors enjoy their senior living community.
“The people I see who do well adjust their expectations,” Foisy says. “If they are resistant to assisted living—if it’s thrust into their lives in less than a choice-based way—they are going to have trouble adjusting.”
In some cases, seniors who move into assisted living may refuse to participate in group activities as a form of asserting control over their lives. “Sometimes it’s a pride thing,” Foisy explains. “They want to hold onto their independence, so they resist being involved in group activities. However, I’ve also seen people shift attitudes, saying to themselves, ‘I’m going to participate in this activity, and this is the role I’m going to take.’”
Choosing Appropriate Activities
Assisted living communities typically have a full schedule of activities, enabling residents to pick and choose the ones that are best suited to their personality, their interests, and their needs. “For instance, if they have difficulty mobility, they might decide to participate in physical activities that help them address this issue,” Foisy says. “Or they might decide to participate in activities that play to their strength. They might say, ‘Hey, I’m pretty smart, so I’m going to participate in trivia.’”
The type of activity doesn’t matter as much as the resident realizing that it is to his or her benefit to participate. “The key is to take a new situation in which the resident might be resistant and reframe it positively,” says Foisy.
Participating in group activities provides a form of interaction that the older adult did not have when living in his or her own home. “People may equate living alone with being independent, but it comes at a price,” Foisy reports. “When people spend almost all of their time alone, they can get so much inside of their own head that they don’t realize they’re becoming reclusive. They need that sense of camaraderie that being part of an assisted living community can provide.”
Foisy adds that there are ways to assert independence even when participating in a group. For instance, residents can take a leadership role in group activities by speaking out about the direction they want a particular activity to take. They can even suggest new activities that may better suit their interests—i.e., a book club or a knitting club. Helping to introduce new activities can add to their enjoyment of their surroundings and also help them relate to other residents who share common interests.
“Activity managers may appreciate it when residents do this,” Foisy says. “They are usually very willing to add new activities wherever residents see a need. This is another way for residents to take on a leadership role and feel more in control of their lives.”
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