Helping older clients with their depression

Although depression is not considered a normal part of aging, this illness is common among
older adults. According to the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry 15% of adults ages
65 and above experience symptoms of depressions that cause them distress and make it
difficult for them to function.

Depression also influences the physical and mental health of older adults, say researchers from
the University of Washington. Their study of the healthcare costs associated with depression
shows that mature adults with significant depressive symptoms had healthcare costs about 50%
higher than older individuals without depression. According to the researchers, this increase
was seen for every component of healthcare costs and was not accounted for by an increase
specialty mental healthcare.

Currently depression is the fourth leading cause of premature death and disability worldwide
and is expected to become the second leading cause by 2020, according to the World Health

Many studies in the last decade have looked at the effects of exercise on depression. This
research has found that exercise enhances self-esteem, improves mood, reduces anxiety
levels, increases the ability to handle stress and improves sleep patterns. In addition, a recent
study suggests that exercise many be an effective antidote to major depression.! !
Investigators from Duke University Medical Center tested exercise against an antidepressant in
156 outpatients ages 50 and older who met the criteria for a major depressive disorder. The
team discovered that both treatments had about the same ability individually (or combined) to
reduce or eliminate symptoms. Exercise also did a better job of keeping symptoms from coming
back after the depression lifted.

Being a Personal Trainer puts you in an excellent position to help older adults who might be
suffering from depression. You can help depressed clients feel better by helping them through
physical activity and through giving them your full undivided attention.

Physical activity breaks down emotional barriers, freeing older adults to express their feelings or
talk about the distresses in their lives. It’s important for you to be fully engaged and listen when
your clients feel safe enough to open up more in their conversations with you. If you listen
authentically and with clear intention you’ll draw your mature clients out and encourage them to
express their emotions.

You can promote these interactions by selecting exercises that help you maintain good eye
contact. For example, avoid using any exercise at the moment in which your eye level is higher
or lower than the clients, such as lying on the floor. This particular position can discourage the
free flowing interaction between the individual and you. Constantly assess your position,
adjusting it when necessary by standing or kneeling to keep eye-level contact.

Here is a list of helpful ideas for listening to older adults.

1. Stop talking. Resist giving advice and limit your talking. You can’t listen while you talk.!
2. Empathize. Try to put yourself in the older adults place so you can see or understand the
person’s perspective.!
3. Don’t give up too soon. Be patient, don’t interrupt.!
4. Concentrate on what the client is saying. Actively focus your attention on words, ideas
and feelings related to the subject.!
5. Look at the person. Focus both eyes intently on ONE of the client’s eyes, rather than
shifting your focus from eye to eye. You’ll be amazed at what you will see and learn.!
6. Leave your emotions behind. Try to push your worries, fears and problems outside the

By using the right exercise intensity levels, you will help break down barriers and crate open
communication between you and your clients. Then, with your best effort and intention, you can
engage them with your full attention, utilizing this two pronged approach helping your clients feel
less depressed, better about themselves and better able to think more clearly about issues at

Paul Holbrook, MA, CSCS
FAI Advisory Board Member
Owner, Age Performance


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