The changes that occur later in life can put the elderly at an increased risk of depression. However, depression is not a natural part of aging.
It is important for seniors and their loved ones to understand that depression is as much a disease as diabetes or arthritis – it’s not something a person can just “snap out of.” Seniors experiencing persistent sadness should seek medical assistance because treatment can help.
Unfortunately, many seniors deny feelings of depression and resist treatment because they do not want to burden their families, or they see depression as a sign of weakness. This can make helping elderly loved ones with depression quite a challenge.
Upon recognizing that an elderly loved one may be suffering from depression, they should see their doctor. During this appointment, the doctor should look at the senior’s medical history, perform a physical exam, and review all medications being taken (including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies). This information will help establish possible causes of the depression and determine whether a specialist should be seen.
Watching an elderly loved one experience depression can be very difficult, especially if the senior is opposed to getting help. These tips may be helpful when reaching out to depressed elderly loved ones and helping them get the care they need.
• Don’t ignore symptoms (and watch for subtle signs). Seniors may not be forthright about feelings of depression. Caregivers should watch for subtle signs such as agitation, irritation, or difficulty sitting still. Listen carefully if an older person complains of feeling depressed or says people don’t care.
• Discuss their feelings. Listen to, and honor, your loved one’s feelings. Offer support and comfort. Try to explain that treatment may help the person feel better.
• Be patient and understanding. Bring up the subject carefully. Try to overcome resistance gradually. Rushing your loved one into taking action could make them defensive and less likely to take action.
• Be flexible. Be open to other options. For example, some people may find speaking with clergy helpful. However, if the depression persists after several weeks of trying an alternative approach, it may be necessary to see a doctor. Also, don’t impose terminology – if they have a stigma attached to “depression,” don’t use that label.
• Be encouraging. Encourage the person to follow through with treatment. Depression usually recurs when treatment is stopped too soon. Help your loved one keep up with his or her treatment plan.
• Offer support. Seniors with depression likely have low energy and motivation. Assistance with phone calls and accompanying them to appointments or support groups can be a big help.
• Keep them social. Group outings and visits from friends and family can help combat isolation and loneliness (especially for the elderly). Encourage them to be active and busy but not take on too much at once. Think of activities they once enjoyed that provide mental or physical stimulation.
• Plan and prepare healthy meals. A poor diet can worsen depression. Make sure elderly loved ones are eating right, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and some protein at every meal.
• Medication adherence. Make sure medications are taken as instructed. Medication adherence is very important but can be challenging for forgetful individuals. Help elderly loved ones remember to consistently take medications on time.
• Pay attention. Work with health care providers to monitor a treatment’s effects. Report observed side effects and make sure the elderly loved one’s doctor is aware of any concerns.
Overcoming depression takes a group effort. Seniors with depression will need understanding friends, family, and caregivers to help them find, and continue, treatment.
Seniors shouldn’t accept depression as a part of getting older. By working with medical professionals, and with the help of others, elderly loved ones can enjoy active and fulfilling lives.