Aging mother in nursing home exhibiting change in behavior

Q: My aging mother used to be a very positive person, but now she barely speaks to us when we visit her in the nursing home where she’s been living for just over a year. Is depression a normal part of the aging process — and what can we do?

Jim: Our counselors say that, unfortunately, depression can be fairly common among people in your mother’s situation and stage of life — but not “normal.” Physical incapacity, increasing dependency, chronic pain, loss and fear of death may trigger the onset of clinical depression, a condition that goes beyond temporary sadness.

Depression should never be considered normal, even late in life. Generally speaking, older people are less likely than younger folks to seek help; many grew up in a time when emotions were kept close to the vest. But stifled emotions can become toxic when allowed to fester.

First, note that certain medications can cause depression as a side effect. Review your mother’s medications with her doctor to determine if she’s taking anything that could be contributing.

Next, come alongside your mother with prayer and encouragement. Sit with her in dark moments and tell her how much she means to you. Encourage her to reminisce about years gone by. Remembering events and people from the past can help draw her out of her depressed state. Enlist friends, neighbors and family to regularly visit her in the nursing home. Give her things to look forward to by including her in family gatherings where possible.

Finally, engage the help of a professional. Although some older people distrust mental health professionals, early therapeutic treatment is important to prevent more serious problems. Most people who are treated for depression, including seniors, show improvement within a few weeks.

Our counseling staff would be happy to discuss this situation with you over the phone; call 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays, 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (MT).

Q: With two young kids in the house, my husband and I are struggling to find opportunities for physical intimacy. It seems every time we’re “about to start,” so to speak, we get interrupted. What can we do?

Greg Smalley, vice president, Family Ministries: I think most married couples with children can relate. Sex can be a real challenge when little ones are in the home. You never know who may be tiptoeing just outside the bedroom door.

There are a number of things you can do to keep the spark alive if you’re in this stage of life. First, talk with your spouse about your expectations. In general, women tend to be more fearful of being “discovered” by the kids. Spouses need to work together to create an environment that’s comfortable for both parties.

Also, think of ways to avoid discovery. Can you put a lock on the bedroom door? Maybe you can dig out that old baby monitor and set it up as a sort of early warning system. You’ll probably need to get creative, like scheduling times when the littles can go see a family member or friend. A play date for the kids can provide a “play date” for Mom and Dad.

Still, despite your best efforts, surprise interruptions may occur. Protect your kids’ innocence as much as possible. You and your spouse might want to agree on a response beforehand, something like, “After all these years, we still love each other and sometimes get excited to spend time together.”

Having kids doesn’t mean saying farewell to marital intimacy. In fact, it’s critical that you make time for sex, even during the child-rearing years. It’s an important part of a healthy marriage.

For more to help your family thrive, go to FocusOnTheFamily.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Faimly and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.