As our older loved ones experience the changes of later life, it is easy for them to become discouraged about their ability to stay independent and productive. Most of us will experience health issues that make doing what we enjoy harder and the fear of losing our independence can be a blow to our sense of self-worth. More than any other generation, elders value being able to work, to feel needed, and to remain independent. A loss of any of these three can bring on depression. So when they experience a loss of abilities, we need to remind them who they really are.
Who They Are
I’ve had the privilege to interview hundreds of elders and listen to their life stories. I am nearly always amazed at what they’ve accomplished and the obstacles they overcame to accomplish their goals. My own parents struggled as children growing up during the Depression, yet they were determined to “make good” no matter what they had to sacrifice. I’m sure it’s probably the same for your own parents. They were never afraid of hard work. They had goals and didn’t let anything get in their way.
My father has suffered setbacks in the past few years. He gets depressed when he thinks he’s going downhill and won’t be able to work around the house and yard the way he loves to do. I do my best to encourage him. I also remind him of all his accomplishments. I thank him for being such a wonderful dad and always being there for every member of our family.
A Lifetime of Experiences
Here are a few discussion topics that will remind them of who they are. They are more than just what they can do today. They are whole people who have lived a lifetime and experienced so many accomplishments.
- Their sacrifices
- Their profession
- The trials they overcame
- Their good deeds
- Their faithfulness to family, friends & community
- Their work ethic
- Their love for you and others
Recounting Past Mental & Physical Accomplishments
Even if your loved one is experiencing dementia, looking back to past accomplishments can be very helpful for his or her self-worth. Remembering our childhoods and young adulthoods is good for all of us. Even those with mild to moderate dementia can talk confidently about the time when they were young. Talking about these times can be very uplifting and bring us out of the dreaded depression fog. Accentuate the positive with yourself and your loved ones. Always thank them for all their kindnesses. Let them know that your life has been blessed because of who they are.
Doing What They Can
Staying as active as possible is the best way to fight depression and a loss of positive ego. Encourage loved ones to do what they can for as long as they can. Try to get some fresh air each day. The sunshine is a tonic. Just a short walk outside can change thoughts from bad to good. We are all more than the people we seem to be right now. We are a compilation of all our experiences and accomplishments. That is who we are.