New Study Suggests Elderly Fight Depression by Staying Current on Family Matters

Such events as a small promotion at work, a backyard landscaping project, or a new milestone met by a great-grandchild may warrant a phone call to an elderly family member. Though these occasions may not call for a party or even a greeting card, new research shows that keeping current on family events may help an elderly family member keep depression from encroaching on their retirement. Researchers at the University of Michigan and Kyungpook National University studied the effects of stress and depression on participants over the age of 85. Changes in positive life events, such as the ones described above, were associated with changes in levels of depression. Elders often struggle with an elevated susceptibility to depression as they lose family and friends. Those aged 85 and older are more at risk to stress and depression than any other age group. Ruth Dunkle, a profession of social work at the University of Michigan said, “It is important to examine the issues of stress and depression among elders over the age of 85 as they are the fastest growing age group. Understanding mental health issues among the very old, allows us to design services targeted to help this specific age group.” Dunkle conducted the study with lead author Hae-Sook Jeon of the Department of Social Welfare at Kyungpook National University. Dunkle is the co-director of the National Institute of Aging training program in Social Research on Applied Issues of Aging and the Geriatric Fellowship Program. The study looked at responses from 183 elderly people in the Midwest. Interviews began in 1986 and were conducted in four sessions, with participants rating their depression, daily hassles, positive and negative life events, and psychosocial resources. Surprisingly, negative life events were not associated with depression at a significant level. Negative life events may include major illness, death of a loved one or a change in abilities, such as hearing loss. The study also examined the effects of daily hassles on participants’ depression levels. Daily hassles, ongoing over time, could have a negative effect on participants’ depression. Daily hassles include such things as minor chronic health issues, forgetfulness, and loss of energy. There were limitations associated with the study. The respondents did not live in institutional or assisted living communities. Elderly who remain in the community are more likely to function better than those living in institutional situations.

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