Sandy Cohen, B.A., R.N. and Roger Cormier, M.A., M.Th.

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On a Sunday morning, people were walking or running around a beautiful, sunlit reservoir in the San Francisco Bay Area. One person was heard saying to her companion, “I don’t like how I’m living. I’m not interested in anything.” Do those words fit an older person in your life?

At times in our lives, we feel depressed because we’ve suffered losses or failed to reach our goals. Or we’re succeeding on the outside but wondering “Is that all there is?!” on the inside. Or we’re fighting a battle against losses associated with aging. Some combination of physical, emotional and spiritual factors is contributing to our feeling of depression.


Elders who have suffered losses often find themselves in this situation. They lose interest in their life, including the world outside of them. How can they gain a zest for life? How can you help them get out of a depressing rut?

The woman complaining to her companion can provide some clues. First, she wasn’t blaming herself or the outside world. She recognized that she didn’t like the way her life was going and she was concerned at her lack of interest in anything. But she literally was taking some first steps to do something about it. She could have stayed home and wallowed in self-pity, but she was out circling a potentially healing natural setting. She also was confiding in someone who cares about her.

That’s a recipe for transformation. Don’t blame yourself or others or circumstances. Let caring persons in, whether they be family, friends or people in the helping professions like a psychotherapist, pastor, senior center director or support group. For someone who is depressed, such a recipe is a lot easier to verbalize than to enact. If you know someone in such a state, how can you help?

Take a couple of simple cues from the early morning walker’s confidante. First, she was literally walking the walk of her dissatisfied companion. Spending time with a depressed older person communicates your regard for them. Second, she was listening, just listening. Don’t offer opinions or encouraging words before really letting in and acknowledging your elder’s grief. Such untimely actions can convey that you’re more interested in lightening them up for your sake than truly being with them in their pain.

When your “walking partner” shows any sign of new interest in their life, gently reinforce it. For example, if they ask about people or activities in your life, invite them to join you for a social occasion. If they should invite your opinion and you have one, share it sensitively without “shoulds.” If they seem seriously depressed with no sign of improvement, help them arrange an appointment with their primary care doctor, who may prescribe medication or make a referral to a psychiatrist or other specialist or treatment program.

Two books that offer families insight about loss, dependence and understanding in late life are “Counting on Kindness: The Dilemmas of Dependency” by Wendy Lustbader and “Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders” by Mary Pipher.