Senior Living: About grief and depression

Q. My husband died a year ago and I find myself crying a lot lately. I think it is grief, but my kids are worried that I might be depressed. What is the difference?
Although a grieving person may experience a number of depressive symptoms such as frequent crying and profound sadness, grief is a natural and healthy response to bereavement and other major losses.
There is a difference, however, between a normal grief reaction and one that is disabling or unrelenting. While there’s no set timetable for grieving, if it doesn’t let up over time or extinguishes all signs of joy — laughing at a good joke, brightening in response to a hug, appreciating a beautiful sunset — it may be depression.
Depression red flags include:
Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes.
Social withdrawal and isolation (reluctance to be with friends, engage in activities or leave home).
Weight loss; loss of appetite.
Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness).
Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing).
Increased use of alcohol or other drugs.
Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Older adults don't always fit the typical picture of depression. Many depressed seniors don’t claim to feel sad at all. They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy or physical problems. In fact, physical complaints, such as arthritis pain or headaches that have gotten worse, are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly.
If you think you do fall into the depressed category, first try the following remedies and if they don’t give you relief, seek a medical professional’s help:

Get out in to the world — Try not to stay cooped up at home all day. Go to the park, take a trip to the hairdresser or have lunch with a friend.
Connect to others — 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 e-mail.
Participate in activities you enjoy — Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring, or used to bring, you joy.
Volunteer your time — Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and regain perspective.
Take care of a pet — Get a pet to keep you company.
Learn a new skill — Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn or that sparks your imagination and creativity.
Enjoy jokes and stories — Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy or read a funny book.
Maintain a healthy diet — Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy and take a daily multivitamin.
Exercise — Even if you’re ill, frail or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood — even from a chair or wheelchair.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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