Christine Webber

One of the aspects of growing older, as many of us know, is that it’s a time of extraordinary change.

Our own health, or that of a partner can be utterly altered in a heartbeat.

We injure ourselves. We feel poorly and suddenly are landed with a diagnosis of diabetes, cancer, heart disease or dementia.

Or we have siblings, or close friends or partners who become incapacitated right out of the blue. It’s very unsettling.

So much so, that some of us become clinically miserable or anxious for the first time in our lives. 

Last week, I was talking to a colleague I’ll call Geoff.

He’s always been sporty – and till recently was still playing golf and tennis. He also walks everywhere and enjoys hiking holidays.

But now, one of his hips has become a problem. He’s seen a doctor and has been put on a waiting list for a replacement. 

Geoff has such good muscle tone and is so fit, he’s been told he should recover well and be able to return to many of his customary forms of exercise.

However, this hasn’t stopped him feeling as if his bad hip is the end of the world.  He knows he’s over-reacting but can’t seem to help himself. 

Until now, exercise has always been a mood booster for him, as well as an effective way to control his weight. Now, he feels old and that his body is letting him down and, to his surprise, he’s depressed.

What has happened to Geoff is typical of the sort of change that happens in later life which can impact on our mental health. 

So, what can we do in this situation?  

First, it’s usually a good idea to try to seize control of what you can.  

So, for example, if you have pain, make sure you get help from your GP so you can manage that.  

Secondly, access information from the GP or from reputable sites on the internet about how to keep as fit as possible while you go through treatment or wait for an operation.

You’ll feel more positive if you’re doing all you can to prepare yourself for what lies ahead. 

In Geoff’s case, he’ll find there’s masses of advice about keeping as active as possible while you wait for a hip operation.

He’s been advised not to attempt golf or tennis for now, but he won’t have to look very far online to discover good alternatives to his usual activities which, currently, are more appropriate for him.

This is important because it means he can maintain good muscle tone, which will aid his recovery from the surgery when he has it. 

In a nutshell, anyone who can’t pursue normal exercise right now, really needs to focus on what they can do, rather than dwell on what they can’t. 

Frequently, men and women with bad hips come to realise they can keep walking; better still, they learn that doing so usually reduces pain.

Walking, in fact, is beneficial for sufferers of most illnesses; it keeps them fit and usually cheers them up too. 

Stretching is also helpful. As is pilates and yoga – especially if you do it with an instructor who is experienced enough to give you options in class to accommodate any physical difficulties you may have.

Swimming is highly recommended by most experts. Cycling too because it keeps our joints mobile and encourages us to get out in the fresh air, which acts like a tonic for many of us.   

So, look for inspiration on all the good websites around – especially those run by the NHS. Whatever your condition, you’ll find information that can help you. And options to make your life easier.  

Dealing with low mood and anxiety however is not so easy.

But you may find that if you embark on some sort of project while in treatment or waiting for surgery, this will take your mind off your condition and help you feel more upbeat.

If you’re good with your hands, this would be the perfect time to make something that you can feel proud of. Other ideas might be to finally learn to play the guitar, or to dig out your old chess board and find someone to play with you, or maybe delve into family history. 

Sadly though, you may find it impossible to summon sufficient energy or enthusiasm for such a hobby. And this could be because your mood has plummeted to a particularly low level. 

This can happen to any of us. So, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t denote weakness or lack of moral fibre.

And also, that plenty of individuals dealing with age-related changes, need medical help, in the shape of counselling or anti-depressants, to get them through. There’s no shame in this.  

You’d take a couple of paracetamol if you had a headache, wouldn’t you? So please don’t suffer alone and in silence.

There are no medals for this kind of misplaced heroism.

Better by far, for you and those around you, to acknowledge that you need support and to be responsible enough to ask for it.