Staying active, social a key to seniors' health
Dr Tomioka

​I recently saw a patient in her 70s who was suffering from mild depression.

A widow, she spent a lot of time helping take care of her grandchildren. She loves them dearly, but watching them had become somewhat of a routine for her. It was apparent that she wasn’t enjoying them as much as she should. Her time with them had become more work than fun.

My patient started talking about her younger years, and about the activities that made her happy.

“If you knew me before,” she said wistfully, “I really loved to dance.”

“You should dance, then,” I said.

“At my age?”

“Sure,” I told her. “Why not?”

“That’s ridiculous.”

We talked some more, and after my evaluation I indicated a prescription medicine for depression. But my instinct told me that what this woman really needed was to engage in an activity she enjoyed.

My experience with this patient reinforced the notion of how important it is that as we age, we don’t lose sight of engaging in activities we love, or of the value of socializing.

Engaging the body and mind in activities can be just as important as seeing your doctor for regular checkups. Too often, though, we tend to overlook this area of our health.

Personality and cultural background play a big role in whether a person remains mentally and physically active as he or she ages. But doing so can make a big difference when it comes to your health, as well as your quality of life.

My grandparents immigrated to Peru, where I grew up, from their native Japan. Once in Peru, though, they didn’t isolate themselves. Instead, they tapped into a large network of transplanted Japanese who were living there. Similar pockets of Japanese nationals are spread throughout Southern California.

Once a month, I make a point of going to shops and restaurants in Gardena and Torrance to enjoy socializing with people whose backgrounds are similar to mine.

My point is, no matter where you are from or where you end up, it’s important to reach out to people with similar interests and stay connected. We, as humans, are social beings. We crave human connection. And you’re not going to feel connected staying holed up all day in your condominium.

When I saw my mildly depressed patient again, I was gratified to see that a lot had changed for her.

She only was on anti-depressants for about three months.

She still was taking care of her grandchildren, but not as often as before. She had come to realize they were not her primary responsibility, and that spending more time doing the things she used to enjoy had become more of a priority.

She even had taken up my suggestion to go to an organized dance for seniors.

Remaining engaged and social while we age is important, but also don’t forget to eat healthily, engage in some physical activity like walking or gardening, and never stop feeding your brain - if you don’t want to venture outside, then grab a puzzle book and give your brain a workout.

And don’t fall into the mindset of thinking, “I don’t have any friends,” or “I can’t enjoy the things as I used to enjoy.”

Have a little more trust in yourself, as well as trust in others. Doing so can be just the recipe you need for better health.

- Dr. Mercedes Tomioka in a specialist in internal medicine and geriatrics at Hoag Medical Group.

To read the original Orange County Register​ article, please click here​