Depression in seniors is a serious public health issue issue that can be overlooked.
Because it’s overlooked so often, it is also common for elders not to seek the help of a mental health professional.
This happens because:
- Because most elderly people may live alone, there may not be anyone around consistently enough to notice the symptoms of depression.
- An older adult may assume that what they are feeling is simply a part of the aging process.
- Because most people in older generations were trained to not “air your dirty laundry”, many of them may feel reluctant to share what they are going through.
- People with depression sometimes complain of physical symptoms which don’t have an organic cause. An older adult may therefor assume that their “body just hurts” when in fact, they are experiencing symptoms of depression.
It is normal to feel sad when an adverse event occurs such as the loss of a loved one or even a deterioration in one’s health.
However, a person without depression will recover from these feelings and be able to using several positive coping mechanisms to keep on living.
If a person is however unable to recover from the feelings of sadness and hopelessness or is unable to cope after a long period of time, it is possible depression is at play.
How to detect depression in seniors
If you (an older adult) or your elderly loved one experiences any of the following symptoms continuously for at least two weeks it could point to depression.
- Persistently sad or anxious.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities.
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness.
- Complaints of tiredness and low energy.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions (This could also point to Alzheimer’s/dementia).
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
- Appetite and/or unintended weight changes.
- Thoughts of death or suicide and suicide attempts.
- Restlessness and irritability.
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and which may not go away even with treatment.
Risk factors for depression
People are more likely to face depression if:
- They are female.
- Have a chronic medical illness like cancer.
- Have a disability.
- Live alone or are isolated.
- Have a personal or family history of depression.
- Suffer from a brain disease.
- Have abused alcohol or drugs in the past.
- Have experienced multiple losses in a short amount of time. This is common for elders as they may lose many friends and acquaintances their age in a short span of time.
What you can do to help
If you notice these symptoms and they persist for two weeks or more, it is very likely depression is at play.
What can you do as a caregiver in this instance?
The best you can do is to have a frank conversation with your elderly loved one.
It is not uncommon for anyone to resist the suggestion that they need to see a mental health professional.
So you can expect this in the beginning.
The key here is not to force them to go see a professional. Your role is to talk through things with them to help them come to the conclusion themselves that seeing a mental health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment will be in their best interest.
- Ask open-ended questions that help your elderly loved one see that they are going through depression and that seeing a professional will be beneficial for them.
- Perhaps they are reluctant to seek help because of cost? Research community mental health resources that come at reduced costs and assure them that money should not be the reason they shouldn’t seek help.
- Listen and be attentive to things they say.
- Don’t ignore talk of suicide and wanting to die. If this happens, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
What Treatments To Expect
Treatment for depression depends on many factors.
If your loved one is taking certain drugs that interact negatively with a class of antidepressants, a doctor may not prescribe those.
However you can expect:
- Anti-depressant medication.Depending on the person, this could start working in as little as 1-2 weeks. Or it could take months to fully have an effect. As a caregiver, it is important that you also watch out for side effects of prescribed antidepressants. Some antidepressants might initially increase the thoughts of suicide. You need to be able to report these immediately to the doctor. Also, even if the person reports feeling better after a few weeks on antidepressant medication, it is important that they don’t stop taking their medication.
- Counseling sessions with a licensed therapist/psychiatrist. This is an old, tried and true method of helping people recover from mental health problems. As a caregiver, it will be your responsibility to make sure your elderly loved one is able to get to these sessions in a timely manner.
- Exercise might also be recommended as a complementary treatment for depression. Exercise releases endorphins which interact with receptors in our brains to give an overall feeling of well-being.
Depression in seniors is real and should not be ignored.
In this post, I have provided tips on how you can detect depression and offer assistance as a caregiver.
People cannot just “snap out of” depression. It is a serious mental health issue that needs real treatment. The quicker you help your elderly loved one seek help, the better.
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