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Published February 08, 2014, 08:44 PM

Minding Our Elders: Outliving friends can fuel blues

DEAR CAROL: My mom is 87-years-old and is pretty sharp mentally. She has severe arthritis and high blood pressure but isn’t in bad health for someone her age.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My mom is 87-years-old and is pretty sharp mentally. She has severe arthritis and high blood pressure but isn’t in bad health for someone her age.

I feel so sorry for her, though, because her friends are either deceased, terribly ill or have dementia. Mom used to be social but now she sits around her home all day knitting and watching TV. She lives alone in an apartment not far from me and I visit nearly every evening, though I have a husband, small children and a job.

I don’t feel her quality of life is very good despite her relatively good health. She seems so lonely and depressed. What can I do to help? – Erin

DEAR ERIN: One of the seldom talked about issues that people who live into their late 80s and longer is that many of them have outlived a spouse and most of their long-time friends and acquaintances.

I recall the toll that this reality took on my own mother. When a greeting card for her came in the mail I dreaded giving it to her because nearly every message contained news about the illness or death of an old friend. She’d tell me that “everyone is dying off,” and this understandably depressed her.

While most of your mom’s friends are deceased or ill, if she belongs to a church there may be people there you can contact about visiting your mom regularly. Also, most communities have a place where seniors can gather, have meals and make friends. Many areas have a senior bus, but if your mother’s arthritis is severe or if she is frail in other ways she may have trouble making use of the bus. If you could arrange for alternate transportation for your mother perhaps she’d consider going to these gatherings so that she has a social life beyond family visits.

If your Mom is truly depressed and her doctor feels that her depression is situational rather than medical, it could be time to ask her what she thinks about assisted living. She may be attached to her apartment, particularly if she’s lived there a long time, but often that attachment is more about being in a familiar environment than an appropriate one.

You could ask her if she’d join you in investigating some assisted living facilities in your community. Once she sees people interacting and having fun with friends, it could spark her imagination enough to consider such a move.

Don’t push too hard. Simply let her know that you aren’t trying to force a move but would like to investigate the possibility of assisted living, at least for future consideration. Mention that you think she may be happier with more choices during the day and more people around for when she feels like socializing. If she resists, then let it go. Perhaps with time to think about alternatives to her lifestyle she may eventually agree to a move, however you do have to consider the fact that she may be reasonably content as she is.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.