It’s normal to grow forgetful or distracted with age. But repeatedly forgetting the same things—or getting increasingly confused, agitated or moody—can be a sign of depression or serious memory loss. In that case, it’s a good idea to size up thinking problems in a doctor’s visit. Community resources also help seniors feel in focus and stay sharp. Volunteer activity may be part of the doctor’s “prescription” for better brain health.
Depression and dementia are major issues for many older Americans. More than 7 million people ages 65 or older had dementia in 2022, and the numbers are expected to climb to 9 million by 2030 and nearly 12 million by 2040. With a lifetime of stress and fewer resources, Black and Hispanic adults over 65 are up to 18 percent more likely to have dementia, and these groups are also less likely to visit a doctor about their symptoms.
Depression and dementia in the elderly share a powerful link: Depression can increase the risk of developing dementia or worsen its symptoms, while dementia can cause emotional problems or trigger depression. When people don’t remember events, or sometimes even friends and loved ones, they get discouraged and depression sets in.
Senior Centers Bring a Better Outlook
Dementia or depression usually have different warning signs. For instance, older adults with dementia may have trouble with speaking, writing and performing daily tasks. People 65 and older with depression may have impaired judgment due to lack of concentration, although their language and motor skills are usually normal.
Both challenges can be tackled by reaching out to community resources, and people shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed about asking for help. Many older adults already visit the local senior center or know of one in the area. Here, people can socialize and participate in fun recreational activities. As a community resource, it’s also a hub for health and wellness services such as flu shots and caregiver assistance and a nearby place to get information and referrals.
These community centers are operated by cities, faith-based groups and social service organizations. They help challenge the mind and keep people active and around people of similar age—both important aspects in fighting dementia and depression. Senior centers provide a sense of belonging, support and purpose for older adults, and often they’re the most convenient resource available.
Among their most vital services for those suffering from dementia or depression are support groups. At first, many older adults may want to keep their problems to themselves, but those who visit support groups will find emotional support from their neighbors, coping strategies, ideas and advice.
Reach Out for More Brain Resources
There are numerous other groups that help older adults cope with depression and dementia. For example, the Alzheimer's Association and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provide online support groups, which may be more comfortable for older adults. Mental health agencies, hospitals and churches offer other forms of help. Some offer specific community resources for dementia patients and their caregivers.
All of these groups draw people into activities that make them feel valued, productive and connected. They give older volunteers a purpose that keeps them in an upbeat frame of mind that helps preserve their physical and emotional health.
Zing Health maintains alliances and referral relationships with social service organizations that address social determinants of health, such as financial or relationship stress, which contribute to depression and dementia. To learn more about Zing Health, visit myzinghealth.com.