Depression is all too common in the senior community. And sadly only 10% of the 6 million suffering from depression receive treatment.
Depression is more difficult to detect in older adults versus younger adults. The disorder can be confused for the effects of other illnesses and medications. The illness can also affect the elderly differently than it does younger adults. One example is that is lasts longer and it’s combined with an increased risk of cardiac disease.
Awareness of the symptoms of depression is the first step of a caregiver. Depression often occurs simultaneously with other illnesses or a life change where social structure has been lost. The holidays lead to a spike in depression as well. As younger families with children are busy with holiday activities, seniors often feel overlooked. Recognizing signs of depression early on will avoid an unnecessary struggle.
Seniors in Depression: Detecting the Symptoms
- Signs of depression from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and WebMD include:
- Change in sleep
- Change in appetite or weight
- Lack of concentration
- Energy loss
- Lack of interest in activities
- Hopelessness or guilty thoughts
- Changes in movement (less activity or more agitation)
- Physical aches and pains
- Especially chest pain if heart, lung, and stomach problems are ruled out
- Digestive problems
- Suicidal thoughts
The first step is awareness of the symptoms of depression and noting the symptoms your loved one is experiencing. Tracking symptoms is an important part of determining treatment. This information should be conveyed to a medical professional if you decide to seek medical treatment for depression.
Besides medical treatment, it’s important to assess the lifestyle of your loved one to determine if certain habits or lack of habits are contributing to depression/anxiety. Before tackling full fledged depression, you can start by addressing specific symptoms. This approach is often received more readily as it avoids dealing with the unfortunate stigma of depression.
Helping Seniors in Depression
- During the holidays, be sure to maintain visits and phone calls. Seniors often feel forgotten during the holidays. Include your elderly loved ones in all activities, even if they decide not to participate. Gift them experiences with the grandchildren, such as plays and outings.
- Check their level of comfort. Are they struggling to maintain their home or keep their kitchen stocked? The anxiety of losing control can lead to depression. Make sure their needs are taken care of.
- At the same time, it’s not helpful to take control by doing everything for your loved one. A senior, like anyone else, needs to feel needed and helpful. Instead of stepping in and doing everything yourself, help seniors organize their own responsibilities. Let them realize their capabilities. And give them small tasks you need them to accomplish. Even this small sense of purpose can give them a new focus.
- Encourage exercise, which is proven to help depression. Go on daily walks with your loved ones and get them outside. If it’s too cold, walk around an indoor track at your local gym. An outing combined with exercise and conversation will improve a senior’s health, mentally and physically.
The good news is, there is hope for seniors in depression. Once a vigilant caregiver or doctor notices the symptoms, a treatment plan can be created. Sometimes that means asking the family to help or reaching out to professionals.