For many elderly people a decline in their mood level seems to be inextricably linked with aging. While aging does reduce serotonin levels—often resulting in an elderly person being more susceptible to depression and other negative emotions—there are some things that can be done to combat negative emotions that sometimes accompany the physical changes that occur with age.
- Light Therapy
It is no accident that people of all ages tend to be depressed more frequently during the winter months. This is because the body needs to be exposed to a certain amount of natural light, and a scarcity of this light will frequently cause depression, anxiety, and irritability, just to name a few.
Fortunately, you can help your elderly loved one enjoy all the positive benefits of sunlight, even when actual sunlight may be lacking. Bright light therapy uses lighting designed to mimic the sunlight’s natural rays and can be used in place of actual sunlight.
An eight-week study done by Radford University and Commonwealth Care of Roanoke determined that light therapy reduces depression and agitation by more than half. Employing natural-light lamps in place of sunlight will yield significant dividends in terms of raising the mood level of your elderly loved one. These lamps are available at many specialty stores or may be ordered online through various retailers.
- Art Therapy
There is a strong connection between mental health and art. To this end, there exist numerous programs for elderly people, and a caregiver would do well to consider enrolling his or her loved one in one of these art therapy programs.
Engaging in art—be it painting, sculpting, or some other creative outlet—is beneficial for dementia sufferers and may even act to minimize the effects of the disease. An elderly person who is homebound may still be able to benefit from participation in art therapy, so don’t feel discouraged if you are unable to transport your loved one to an art therapy session. Art therapists are able to travel to the home of an elderly client and assist him or her with engaging in a creative outlet.
Aromatherapists take essential oils which have been removed from plants and use them in various ways to try to improve the quality of life for elderly dementia sufferers. Frequently a diluted oil may be applied to the skin (for example on the earlobes) or heated in a burner so the fragrance permeates the area, or even added to a bath.
Far from being a groundless treatment, there actually exists some evidence that aromatherapy is effective in promoting the relaxation of dementia sufferers. Further, in some cases, certain oils can sometimes improve cognitive ability in Alzheimer’s patients. While this area does offer some hope of relief, the evidence of its effectiveness is currently too limited to rely on aromatherapy alone. A better course of action may be to couple aromatherapy with another type of therapy at the same time.
- Herbal Medicine
Using plants, or compounds derived from plants, to treat physical maladies is a practice as old as humankind. Pharmaceutical companies frequently use compounds from plants, so it should not be surprising that herbal medicine enthusiasts claim that using specific plants in specific ways can help to alleviate the suffering brought on by Alzheimer’s or dementia.
If your elderly loved one suffers from anxiety, depression, agitation, or some other side effect of dementia, it may be worth looking into whether an herbal medicine approach could be useful in treating the symptoms. Some plants and herbs are known for improving emotional well-being and herbal medicine—when used in conjunction with another treatment regimen—may prove to be worthwhile.
There are several types of alternative therapies available to help minimize the ravages of dementia. Whether they act by affecting an elderly person’s cognitive ability or simply by improving his or her overall health, alternative therapies may be worth investigating, especially if done in conjunction with another therapy.
Alzheimer’s Society. Complementary and Alternative Therapies. Available online at http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=134.
News-medical.net (website). (October 13, 2015). Study: Bright Light Therapy Reduces Depression and Agitation in Dementia Sufferers. News Medical, Life Sciences and Medicine. Available at http://www.news-medical.net/news/20150929/Study-Bright-light-therapy-reduces-depression-and-agitation-in-dementia-sufferers.aspx.
Zevallos, Zuleyka. (September 17, 2013). Art Therapy, Visual Sociology and Dementia Awareness. Sociology at Work. Available at http://www.sociologyatwork.org/visual-sociology-of-dementia/