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Depression + Retirement: Where do doctors fit?

By: Kelley Talbot

You may have witnessed both scenarios:

  1. The couple that retired and thrived – traveling, staying active and enjoying their newfound freedom.
  2. And the retired couple that couldn’t seem to get into the swing of it – foundering with too much time on their hands, feeling disengaged, and even experiencing declining health.

What role can providers play in helping patients enjoy not just healthy but happy retirements? What do these conversations look like in the face of a very large aging population and a re-imagining of retirement?

While there is some indication that many retirees’ health improves in certain areas – they get more exercise and more sleep, and may quit risky behaviors such as smoking – depression and anxiety are real risks. According to a report released by the Institute of Economic Affairs, following an initial boost in health, retirement increases the risk of clinical depression by 40 percent.

Others have a found a “sugar rush – crash” pattern: Well-being increases in the first few years of retirement but then takes a nosedive. “People can go through hell when they retire and never say a word about it, often because they are embarrassed,” explains Robert Delamontagne, author of Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement. “The cultural norm for retirement is that you are living the good life.”

Providers can screen and refer for depression. Doctors who have cultivated trusting relationships with patients may be better able to detect early warning signs and guide their patients in honest discussions about depression. These same doctors are more likely to know about a patient’s pending retirement in advance and suggest resources to kick it off to a good start – ones that help them take advantage of new opportunities to stay physically and mentally fit. If providers help link patients to the growing number of networks and toolkits that support retirees, it could act as another piece of the puzzle in keeping seniors healthy.