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Aging well talk aims at easing the blues

For many of us, the holidays are a time of abounding comfort and joy. But for lonely, aging adults with strained financial resources or physical frailty, especially those who have experienced recent losses (a spouse, a good friend, a long-loved pet — or even losses involving hearing or vision), there may not be a lot of joy.

If a person you love and care about is demonstrating "absent joy," it's often hard to get them to be receptive to well-intentioned positivism and good will. I'm not suggesting you stop trying, but it can be an uphill climb. It may be possible, however, to provide comfort in ways you have not considered, and a free talk coming up in Ashland will delve into this important topic. The two-hour program, scheduled for noon on Tuesday, Dec. 6, at the Ashland Family YMCA, 540 YMCA Way, is part of Oregon State University's Mastery of Aging Well series. If you have attended previous sessions (they are held once a month), you know that I facilitate an interactive, topical discussion with a panel of experts on aging.

This month's talk will focus on how to address depression in later life, whether it's the sad-and-blue situation of a friend or family member or your own struggle. There will be an engaging, 30-minute DVD containing research-based findings about how to deal with depressive illness. There will also be some interesting door prizes offered (it's the season for gift-giving, after all). Bring your own lunch.

This is a really important topic, especially in the winter when dreary weather can prompt Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It's especially critical to talk about these feelings around the holidays, when family festivities can become overwhelming and mood-depleting.

The Y is the perfect venue for this kind of presentation and discussion because physical activity and exercise absolutely improve how we feel about life. Research shows that people diagnosed with mild or moderate depression benefit enormously from physical activity, such as a regular walking routine, a swim program or strength-training.

I've learned that when I feel "flat," irritable and self-involved (which is my particular version of depressed — everybody's symptoms are different), it's critical to address my symptoms in their early stages. It can get worse and is more likely to re-occur if I don't do that.

If I start to get that flat feeling, I might think about whether I need to see a health professional to get my cranky flatness evaluated. Irritability and hostility can be pivotal signals of depression, particularly with older adults. Depression can be harder to spot as we age; signs include ongoing complaints of aches and pains and (this is a big one) memory difficulties.

Lots of reasons for learning more about this topic — even without door prizes.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.