For many people, life begins at 65: finally able to enjoy the free time that comes with retirement; maybe having moved into a retirement village, with fewer responsibilities around the house; there is more time to share with friends and family and most importantly more time to spend doing the important things such as travelling, volunteering, hobbies, or spoiling the grandkids.
Turning 65 can often mean finally having the freedom to follow your dreams.
However, as Gai McPherson, a retired Clinical Nurse Consultant specialising in Psychogeriatric Health, explains, this extra time can also be a difficult transition.
“Retirement for me was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I loved my job and because I was valued in my role, I wasn’t sure that I would know who I was without it. In fact, I was so worried that I would lose my purpose in life that I didn’t actually retire until I was 71.
“Which was silly really, because for me, those fears were unfounded. All of a sudden I had the time to volunteer and pursue my passions and really make a difference.
“But when you are already questioning your purpose, your body slows down a bit as we age, and we often have more health issues to consider.
“We start losing people close to us and we might not be lucky enough to be surrounded by family or close friends - these changes can increase the risk of anxiety and depression in older people especially.”
Evidence indicates that between 10 and 15 per cent of older people will experience depression and/or anxiety.*
Unfortunately, many people feel there is a stigma attached to depression and anxiety, viewing them as weaknesses or character flaws rather than a genuine health condition.
This stems from their upbringing but in 2018 it is important to remember that it is ok to ask for help.
Anxiety and depression in older people may occur for different reasons, but both physical illness or personal loss are common triggers.
Other factors that can increase an older person's risk of developing anxiety or depression include chronic pain, side-effects from medications, loss of mobility, social isolation, admission to hospital as well as special anniversaries and any memories they evoke.
“Everyone is different,” says Ms McPherson “and it's often a combination of factors that can contribute to a person developing anxiety or depression.
“While you can't always identify the cause, or change difficult circumstances, the most important thing is that you learn to recognise the signs and symptoms and get support. If you're experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, talking to your GP is a good first step.
“As well as providing a diagnosis and discussing treatment options, they can refer you to a counsellor or mental health specialist.
“Make sure you book a longer appointment so you have time to discuss the situation without feeling rushed.”
As we get older, maintaining connections with friends, family and the community can prevent feelings of loneliness and help us to stay mentally and physically healthy.
Loneliness is not an inevitable part of getting older - there are lots of things you can do to expand and strengthen your social networks.”
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There are opportunities to meet new people and form meaningful friendships by joining groups like The Men’s Shed, Legacy, Lions, U3A, Rotary or Probus.
Or you can connect one-to-one with people who share your interests and deeper personal values, and also make a meaningful contribution to the community, by volunteering at organisations like Bundaleer, Marine Rescue, the Koala Hospital or St Vincent De Paul where you can really make a difference and gain a new purpose in life.
“An active life and relationships with people we care about are important at any age, as they promote good mental health.
“Some people find it hard to share what they’re going through with family and friends, for fear of being a burden, but the reality is that you don’t have to ‘put on a brave face’.Gai McPherson
“Help is literally a phone call away, but people can’t help if they don’t know what’s going on.”
Don’t underestimate the power of a smile and a friendly conversation over the fence with your neighbour.
Chances are if you are interested in branching out to join a new social activity, that your friend or elderly neighbour may be interested too– so why not do it together?
You can organise regular catch ups with neighbours and acquaintances; join a book club or craft group; start your own social group for monthly lunches, card games, bingo or even go to the movies.
“If you’re concerned about an older person experiencing anxiety or depression, or just not coping, then it is important to show you care by asking the simple question “R U OK?”
“If we all look out for each other, retirement will be much more fun,” says McPherson.
If you or someone you know needs help, call:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Elder Abuse Hotline 1800 628 221
*National Ageing Research Institute. (2009). Depression in older age: a scoping study. Final Report. Melbourne: beyondblue.