Sometimes underserved by mental health professionals, older adults are at risk for depression, and unfortunately, have high rates of suicide. Many seniors living with depression are resistant to seeking treatment, and some think that they will become a burden on their families if they admit to these feelings and seek help. Some seniors further equate the feelings of depression to weakness. It’s important to know that there are health care professional that actually specialize in treating mental health conditions in seniors, including such conditions as depression and anxiety.
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As the family or friend of a senior citizen, it’s important to know what some warning signs of depression may look like, and to also know what you can do to help.
Depression is not average mourning or occasional feelings of sadness. An indication of depression can be lack of eating for days at a time, or losing interest in activities that used to make them happy. Elderly adults will often deny that they feel lonely, and will hardly ever admit that they have been feeling sad for many days, so that they don’t put any burdens on their family. Some common warning signs of depression you should observe for include:
Some other typical signs of depression may include:
An elderly individual may be trying to cope with the loss of a spouse, caring companion, or close friend, but may be grieving for an extended period of time. Ask your elderly loved one what they are feeling about the loss. It is important for them to be comfortable sharing their emotions with you without fear of judgment. Listening can ease the downheartedness as it can offer direct consolation and reinforcement.
Listening can also indicate what has changed in their life. For example, if a loved one is expressing that they now have difficulty falling or staying asleep, offer insight into how they can sleep better or longer. Many factors may be contributing to insomnia including caffeine or alcohol consumptions, or certain medications. The elderly are more prone to having a primary sleep disorder, and depression may exacerbate an already existent problem.
Illnesses are not cured overnight. This goes the same for depression. When family members learn that their loved one is living with depression, they should avoid saying things that might make them feel guilty, or telling them to just get over it. Did you know that it’s possible to be so sick from depression that it becomes physically impossible to get out of bed? If you notice any unusual behavior, evaluation by a medical professional is always advised. Note that the words “depression, therapy, or drugs” may not be helpful to use around a loved one if they themselves do not think that they need help. Many feel stigmatized by the word “depression” and its associated treatments, causing them to feel shame and become secretive about their feelings.
When an elderly loved one is suffering from depression, try to offer care and companionship, but try to avoid completely taking over their life by doing things for them that they could normally do themselves. These acts may not be helpful, and may only reinforce their belief that they are worthless or incapable. Instead, play a supportive role, aid them in their tasks and praise them for their efforts.
Try to take part in their medical care. Although confidentiality laws prevent geriatric psychiatrists from disclosing information with families, many patients do give permission for family members to participate in their treatment plan. If they do not give permission to disclose information, it is still helpful for a family member to call the doctor and inform them of any new or worsening behaviors exhibited by the loved one.
Getting the support of a home care assistant specializing in senior care is a good option for family caregivers who cannot be there for their aging loved one at all times of the day. A personal support worker can provide companionship to the elderly individual living with depression. A home care companion can encourage social engagement and provide distraction from negative thoughts and feelings, as well as relay important observations that may be of concern to the family, as permitted.
Depression is a recognized medical condition and should be treated as such. We should not allow them to suffer in silence.