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My mother, who is 70 years old and in relatively good health for her age, spends most of her time in her apartment watching CNN and getting upset at all the bad news in the world.  I think she is depressed. What can I do to help her?


A worried daughter


Dear Daughter,


Spending all oneís time watching the bad news in the world is enough to make anyone depressed. Iím a big believer in selectively watching or reading the news. Most news, especially on TV, is negative. Thereís lots of positive things happening in our communities, country, and world. However, this kind of news doesnít usually get reported. 


When an adult enters the senior stage of life, an important life task is for her to create new meaning in her life. Otherwise, she can lapse into despair. 


At her age, your motherís probably suffered losses in her life such as lifelong friends or family members, perhaps even a spouse. Because of these losses, perhaps accompanied by a loss of physical ability, her social activities might have changed, and she can no longer do the things she likes, with the people she cares about. Health issues, a small, fixed income, and perhaps the loss of the home she has known for years also may contribute to stress and sadness.


Itís very possible that your mother is depressed and needs medication. Depression is often under-diagnosed in the elderly. Nearly 25 percent of adults over 60 suffer from some form of depression. As we age, our brains are aging. Antidepressants adjust the brain chemicals back to normal.


I suggest you make an appointment for your mother with her doctor, and make sure you attend so you can express your concerns. The doctor should give her a thorough physical.  There could be something physically wrong that leads to her depressive symptoms. For example, when my grandmotherís potassium levels dropped, she would become moody, tearful, and difficult. Taking her prescription liquid potassium returned her to her normal self.


The doctor also should check her medication list. Your mother could be having side effects from a medication or combination of medications. After her checkup and any necessary tests, your motherís physician may refer her to a psychiatrist who is familiar with prescribing medication to seniors.


In addition to taking her to the doctor, check to see that your mother is eating properly. Itís not uncommon for the elderly to loose interest in food because of changes in their taste buds, difficultly in meal preparation, or sadness at eating alone. Itís also important for her to take nutritional supplements. For example, recent studies are showing that omega 3 oils such as flax seed and especially salmon oil are good for the brain and may be helpful for depression. Check with her physician about supplements because he or she will probably have some good suggestions. 


Exercise is good for combating depression. Encourage your mother to exercise. If she lives in a safe neighborhood, have her get out and walk for at least 30 minutes a day. Buy her a set of one-pound hand weights, and show her how to use them. She can do this while she is watching television. If you have the means, pay for a gym membership and hire someone to drive her there. Or hire a personal trainer to come to her home.


Encourage your mother to volunteer for a local charity. Volunteer work is a good way to achieve meaning in life.  Helping others who are less fortunate also might help her put her problems in perspective.


I donít know if your mother still drives. If she does, sheíll have far more resources. If she doesnít, you will have to get more creative.


See if you can get her involved in social activities such as church or a senior citizens center where people will pick her up and return her home. If she was previously involved with friends or organizations, contact them and ask them to reach out to your mother. It will probably be easier for her to respond to people reaching out to her rather than her contacting them.


I hope these suggestions give you a place to start helping your mother. 


Take care,



Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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