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The Second Half: Are you happy or depressed?

July 14, 2010

By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Columnist

In my Second Half, I run into a lot of things to be depressed about: limited health care, the economy, the oil spill in the Gulf. But many people in the over-50 category truly suffer from depression and related mood disorders.

I found this list at the Disability World Web site, some famous Second Half folks who have struggled with depression: Amy Tan, author; Jim Carrey, comedian/actor; Buzz Aldrin, astronaut; Boris Yeltsin, Russian president; Billy Joel, singer/musician/songwriter; Carrie Fisher, actress; Harrison Ford, actor; Richard Dreyfuss, actor; and Abe Lincoln, American president.

(Get the complete article at Disabled World, Web site for Disability and Health News. http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/mooddisorders-famous.shtml)

“Does addiction to drugs and alcohol count as depression now?” Hubby asked me dryly. “Because many of the celebs on your list have documented substance abuse problems!”

Minnesota-based substance abuse specialists at Hazelden’s Butler Center for Research tell us:

“Substance abuse among those 60 years and older (including misuse of prescription drugs) currently affects about 17 percent of this population. By 2020, the number of older adults with substance abuse problems is expected to double.” (http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/ade60220.page)

Sadly, this research is nearly 10 years old…can you guess what the numbers are now? (This is me, shuddering!)

“Substance abuse isn’t the only cause of depression in the Second Half,” I argued with Hubby.

He retorted, “Yeah, I noticed when you got up at dawn this morning to take the granddaughter to camp, you seemed a little depressed.”

Cute…he knows I absolutely require eight hours of sleep—minimum—to be cheery in the morning, especially to him. To sound brilliant, I did some more research. Aside from lack of sleep and substance abuse, other causes include chronic pain, medical conditions such as heart disease and stroke, and—here’s the kicker—the medications used to treat those medical conditions. From OmniMedicalSearch.com:

“Statistics show that approximately 6 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from depression. Among them, only 10 percent receive proper treatment. Unfortunately, late-life depression is usually confused with the effects of the multiple illnesses associated with this age and the medication used for their treatment, or it is considered normal among elders. However, it must be emphasized that depression is NOT a part of the normal aging process.” (View this entire article at http://www.omnimedicalsearch.com/conditions-diseases/depression-in-elderly.html.)

I looked to Hubby for his response and noticed he was reading the paper.

“Hey,” I barked, “I was talking to you!” His puzzled look made me realize—he hadn’t heard a word I said.

Duke University Medical Center released this report last year: Hearing and vocal problems go hand-in-hand among the elderly more frequently than previously thought, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center (May 31, 2009). Together, they pack a devastating double punch on communication skills and overall well-being.

“It’s important to realize these disabilities often occur concurrently,” says Seth Cohen, M.D., an otolaryngologist at the Duke Voice Care Center. “And when they do, they can increase the likelihood of depression and social isolation.”

Communication skills being what they may, I decided to focus on getting happier, instead of being depressed.

WebMD recently published the article, Don’t Fall for These 6 Happiness Myths; Learn How to Overcome Them by Annie Stuart, which tells us: “If you’d like to be happier—who wouldn’t?—the first step may be to challenge your own views about happiness.”

Stuart refutes the following myths:

1. Either you have it or you don’t = Not so; getting happier is possible and gets easier with practice.

2. Happiness is a destination = It is a process, not the finish line, something you can build upon and increase.

3. We adapt to a happiness set point = This means once we get something we thought would make us happy, the feeling is short-lived and we return to feeling normal; we can keep the feelings alive by regular and deliberate focusing on the good stuff.

4. Negative emotions outweigh positive ones = Negative emotions are all about fixing a problem; once it is fixed, the positive emotion wins out.

5. Happiness is hedonism = Actually, helping others rates way higher on the happiness scale than hedonism; go volunteer somewhere and get that “helper’s high”!

6. One size fits all = Lots of things work, different things for different people…find something meaningful to you and do it!

“OK,” you might say, “All this is fine if you aren’t clinically depressed…what then?”

My natural health source, Dr. Mercola (at mercola.com, Jan. 29, 2009) says:

Address your stress—Depression is a very serious condition; however, it is not a “disease.” Rather, it’s a sign that your body and your life are out of balance. This is so important to remember, because as soon as you start to view depression as an “illness,” you think you need to take a drug to fix it. In reality, all you need to do is return the balance to your life, and one of the key ways to doing this is addressing stress.

My 60-something pal, Tom, recently discovered social networking on Facebook as a remedy to being far away from old friends and loved ones, telling me, “I can’t believe it is so much fun!”

Great delight and amusement can be had from this and other such sites: MySpace.com, Snabbo.com, Boomergirl.com, Classmates.com, BoomerLiving.com and RedwoodAge.com, to name a few. (I addressed this phenomenon in two recent columns, April 2010; go to rockrivertimes.com and enter “social networking” into the Search box.)

Of course, I’m anti-social and don’t indulge in online networking…no wonder I’m a little depressed!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

From the July 14-20, 2010 issue

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