Are Strong Family Ties a Cure for Depression in Retirement Living?

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Are Strong Family Ties a Cure for Depression in Retirement Living?

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Strong family ties may be the best cure for depression

A senior living alone often faces many challenges including the symptoms of depression: lack of energy, difficulty focusing or concentrating, sadness, and even emptiness.

Some senior healthcare experts have noted that nearly 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 suffer from depression, and the likelihood that an elder will experience the symptoms of mood disorders increases with aggravating factors such as chronic physical disease or lack of mobility.


It is interesting to note, however, that at least one study has indicated that maintaining strong family ties between generations may help to prevent depression in seniors. The more opportunities older adults have to contribute to a family dynamic, the less likely they are to experience depression.

Strong bonds are beneficial for both grandparents and grandchildren.

In a 2013 study by Boston College researchers, it was found that grandchildren and grandparents who reported having good relationships suffered less often from depression than those who did not have strong family ties. The study noted that, the closer the bond, the better the benefit for both groups.

Grandparents in the study who received support from their younger family members and provided support to their younger family members (in the form of advice given, assistance with household chores or financial support) were the least likely participants to report mood disorder symptoms. The researchers found that such a give-and-take relationship benefitted the younger participants as well.

Family relationships are most beneficial when they provide the opportunity to love and be loved.

Seniors who provided one-way support to their younger family members, but did not receive support from descendents in return, also experienced fewer feelings of depression, but the effect was less obvious than the psychological improvements observed in those older people who were supported in turn by their family.

Surprisingly, the researchers noted that seniors who received support from their younger family members, but could not contribute back to their younger family members' well-being due to infirmity, distance, or other limiting factors actually experienced increased incidences of depression.

The study shows that the greatest psychological benefit that can be derived in a family dynamic comes from the sense of purpose that grows from feeling needed and the comfort of having support to fall back on.

It's never too late to strengthen family bonds.

We all know how it goes. You spend your life rushing from job to home to job again, taking care of your children's needs, buying, paying, going, coming— it's easy to forget to sit down and spend quality time with your parents or grandparents.

We often have regrets as we age about the time we wasted, hustling and bustling around, instead of spending time with family and friends. But it doesn’t do to dwell on what you could have done— that can’t be changed. What we can (and should) do is reach out to our family members.

Finding time to just be with our families isn't so difficult; it just takes the will to manage your time. Schedule a regular time to visit with your loved ones— over the phone or in person— just a few minutes to sit and chat one-on-one.

Story-telling is a basic human need—and older adults have a wealth of life experiences to share. Listen to them, and you'll pick up on their needs. You can provide love, structure and support.

At the same time, allow your loved one to provide you with advice.

It can be especially hard on a senior living alone not to have anyone else to listen to. Solitude can cause a person to dwell on their own thoughts; humans have a need to listen to others. Older people have a lifetime of memories and lessons; you'll benefit in learning from their experiences, and as a result, they'll feel needed, too.



Worried about a loved one?  Download our tipsheet to decide if it's time to talk about senior care.
Bryan Reynolds
November 30, 2013
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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