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Depression In The Elderly | Symptoms & Treatment

Depression In The Elderly - Closeup Of Depressed Elderly Woman

Depression In The Elderly

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for caregivers or their loved ones is how to manage depression in the elderly.

This mental illness can happen to anyone, even in those who have never had it before. And while some may think that it’s is just a part of aging, it’s much more than that. 

Chances are, you may already be familiar with depression, or know someone who struggles with it. Globally, it affects over 300 million people, according to the World Health Organization.

It’s estimated that 6 million adults in the U.S. aged 65 and older are depressed, but just 10% seek treatment.

It’s crucial that if an older loved one develops depressive symptoms, that they are addressed and taken care of as soon as possible.

With time, patience, and support, it’s possible to get better and move forward with renewed energy and happiness.

Challenges Facing Seniors With Mental Illness

Recognizing, understanding, and treating depression in the elderly can be difficult for several reasons.

  • Seniors may not recognize that the symptoms they experience are actually depressive signs. A recent study about mental health education in Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millenials found that Boomers were the least likely to accurately self-asses their symptoms. 

  • They may also be reluctant to admit or discuss these issues due to generational attitudes towards those with mental illnesses. This could cause some to ignore treatment completely.
  • There may be an assumption that they’re “just down in the dumps” and that these depressive feelings are a normal part of aging. Similarly, physical pain and discomfort, which are signs of depression, can be brushed off as growing old.
  • Senior social isolation could play a significant role, as well. In addition to contributing or worsening depressive symptoms, there may be no one to notice these concerns.

Learning about internal and external pressures facing seniors’ mental health can make it easier to talk to them about their symptoms and begin finding help.

Signs Of Depression In The Elderly

Depression has many faces, and it can be difficult to recognize someone who struggles with it. With older adults, it can be even more problematic, but knowing the symptoms may help:

  • Sadness

  • Feelings of despair, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Aches and pains that worsen, or appear suddenly and are unexplained
  • Loss of interest in social activities or hobbies
  • Decreased appetite or weight loss
  • Feeling unmotivated or unenergetic
  • Trouble falling asleep, sleeping through the night, sleeping too much, or feeling tired during the day
  • Feelings of decreased self-worth, such as feeling like a burden, worthless, or self-loathing
  • Talking and moving slower
  • Higher than normal alcohol or drug use
  • A focus on death or thoughts of suicide 
  • Problems with memory
  • Poor self-care, such as missing meals, not taking medicine, ignoring hygiene

Depression Is More Than Feeling Sad

Contrary to popular belief, those with depression may not experience feelings of sadness. For seniors, they often don’t report any sadness.

In fact, depression in the elderly looks different than other age groups, although there are many similarities. 

Instead of sadness, they may experience a lack of motivation and energy and physical problems like headaches and arthritis, which are the most common signs of depression for older adults.

It’s also important to learn the difference between grief and depression

Depression In The Elderly - Grief Vs. Depression Chart

Source: www.hrrv.org

Most have experienced grief due to a loss, from a job to a loved one.

Aging adults can experience other losses that can be difficult to cope with, such as their independence, mobility, or their health.

Grieving is normal, and there are healthy ways to express it. It might be difficult, however, to tell the difference between grief and depression.

  • With grieving, there are both periods of happiness and sadness, and there are still times when you feel pleasure despite the sadness. 
  • Someone with depression has chronic feelings of emptiness or hopelessness and won’t feel any enjoyment.
  • The ability to enjoy anything completely disappears after an unusually long time. 

Causes Of Depression In The Elderly

Aging brings many changes, and some may be more difficult than others. Some events and problems that may lead to depression include:

  • Changes in health that negatively impact their quality of life. Illness, disability, pain, mental decline, surgeries, and other problems can cause distress.
  • Senior social isolation, which is a problem for many older adults. This issue is a big factor in depression among seniors who may not be able to get around as much or whose social circle is shrinking.
  • A lack of purpose brought on by reduced mobility, retirement, or other limitations. Seniors may feel more dependent on others and not be able to participate in things they could before. They may also struggle with their identity as they find themselves coping with new situations.
  • Fear and anxiety about finances, health, independence, or death.
  • The loss of a loved one.

Health problems can also trigger depression in the elderly through a psychological reaction in addition to the physical challenges they bring:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lupus or fibromyalgia
  • Multiple sclerosis

Certain medications can also cause symptoms of depression. It’s essential to review the side effects of any prescription you or a loved one are taking and discuss any changes with a health care professional.

Tips For Self-Help

There are several ways to treat depression in the elderly before seeking professional help. 

It’s not too late to make the necessary lifestyle changes that will dramatically improve one’s quality of life.

When you are depressed, motivation is nonexistent, and finding the desire or energy for the littlest things can feel overwhelming.

But it’s important to know that doing just one small thing every day can become the stepping stone to improving your mental health. 

It doesn’t have to start with learning a new hobby. It can be something as simple as a short walk to release some endorphins.

Here are some of the key ways you can help yourself or a loved one get better.

Get Out Of The House

Even if you live away from friends and family, it’s important to maintain a healthy social life as an adult. 

Senior social isolation can lead to worsening symptoms, so getting out of the house is critical to improving your mental health. 

You don’t have to do this on your own, either. Doing what you can to get support will help you feel more connected to others and stop feelings of loneliness. 

Phone calls, e-mail, and social media are great ways to stay in touch with those you care about when you can’t socialize in person. 

Just try not to make that your only mode of communication, as it isn’t a replacement for human interaction.

Visting a new cafe, sitting in a park on a beautiful day, getting your nails or hair done, or going to a museum are good ideas for things to do outside.

If you aren’t sure how to meet people, consider volunteer work. Helping others will make you feel good and improve your self-esteem.

You could also join a senior center, or look for classes in your area to learn a new skill or interest.

Or, become a part of a support group that focuses on depression in the elderly. You’ll get to know others dealing with similar problems and even learn new ways to cope.

If your situation allows for it, consider adopting a pet. There are many dogs for seniors that make excellent companions, and it’s easy to meet others at dog parks or on walks.

Find A Renewed Sense Of Purpose

Growing older doesn’t mean you have to stop looking for meaning in your life. There are plenty of opportunities to find yourself and improve your well-being.

When life brings its changes, for better or for worse, it’s just an opportunity to fill that opening with something new. 

A big part of depression is finding your purpose, whatever it may be. 

Your view of yourself and the world around you has changed over the years. So why not take control of your mindset and turn it into something that works for you? 

A depressed mind makes it easy to slip into a cycle of negative thinking about your capabilities.

Rather than look at what you’ve accomplished in the past, concentrate on your present abilities. Make a list to remind yourself of everything about you that makes you great.

Meeting new people isn’t the only advantage of joining a class or volunteering. You also have the opportunity to learn new skills and do something you’ve always wanted to do.

Similarly, volunteer work can give you a chance to use your skills in a constructive way while benefiting others.

Retirement offers you a lot of free time, so you may as well fill it with the things you never had the time to learn. Plus, learning has the added benefit of boosting cognitive functions and stopping mental decline.

You should also try to travel. New scenery can refresh you mentally and help you feel more invigorated. 

It doesn’t have to be somewhere expensive or exotic, either. There are plenty of senior travel destinations for a week (or weekend) of fun.

You can’t forget to take care of your appearance. Making sure you stay on top of hygiene, and putting in the effort will help your self-confidence and do wonders for how you feel.

Stay On Top Of Physical Health

As you work to improve your mental health, you can’t neglect your physical well-being, either. Although it can be tricky for those with limited mobility to get active, there are several exercises for seniors to do at home.

The importance of exercise can’t be understated. Studies have shown that physical activity can be beneficial for improving mental health as medication.

Even a short walk can be just what your body needs to start feeling body. A sedentary lifestyle can make movement more difficult, so getting around more often will help mobility the more you do it.

Eating right can also do wonders for depression in the elderly. Sugar causes a host of problems, especially inflammation, which can cause pain and mobility issues. 

It’s best to stay away from refined carbs and eat more whole foods that are high in fiber, healthy fats, and protein. 

Make sure you get a good night’s rest. Sleep problems in seniors are common, but there are ways that seniors can manage their sleep hygiene.

Try and get between 7-9 hours of quality rest every night. Avoid alcohol and drinking caffeine late in the day, as they can disrupt the REM cycle and leave you feeling unrested in the morning.

Dedicate your bedroom to sleep so you can train your body to wind down once you get into bed. Stay consistent about the times you go to sleep, and when you wake up so you can balance your circadian rhythm.

Lastly, try to get at least 15 minutes of sunlight daily. Not only does it improve serotonin levels, but your body will absorb vitamin D, which helps regulate mood. 

During the winter, when sunlight is minimal, consider purchasing a light therapy box to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seeking Professional Help

Of course, the best course of action may be visiting a health care professional to create a treatment plan. 

Antidepressants, combined with therapy, can help with many of the symptoms associated with depression. 

However, it’s important not to rely on medications or use them to mask underlying problems such as senior social isolation or other issues. 

Antidepressants have higher risk factors for the elderly, and careful monitoring should be taken to ensure the safety of the person receiving them.

Support counseling, individual therapy, and peer counseling are three ways to make talking about depression easier. It also discusses the root problems causing a decline in mental health instead of only dealing with symptoms. 

Ways You Can Ease Depression In The Elderly

Understand that your loved one grew up in a time when mental health was widely stigmatized. They may not want to talk about it or admit they are depressed. However, you can still help by being there for them and offering your emotional support.

If they do talk to you about their feelings, listen, and hear what they are trying to say. Your patience and compassion will go a long way to helping them feel heard.

Also, remember that their mental health isn’t something for you to fix, but you can work with your loved one to find a diagnosis and treatment. 

If possible, go with them to appointments and research ways you can help someone struggling with depression.

Some other ways you can help include finding ways to stimulate their bodies and minds. Invite them along with you on outings, such as a walk or a movie.

Insist that they join you in social activities, reminding them that they’ll feel better by being around other people for a couple of hours.

Help them with meal prep and planning so they can eat healthier throughout the week when you aren’t there to help.

If your loved one starts treatment, motivate them to continue it, so they don’t relapse. 

Most importantly, watch for the warning signs of suicide and get professional help right away.

How MeetCaregivers Can Help

Depression in the elderly presents many unique challenges, especially if you aren’t around to help as much as you’d like.

If your loved one regularly forgets to take their medicine, needs transportation assistance to appointments, or just needs help with routine tasks, consider hiring a caregiver.

MeetCaregivers has many qualified in-home care workers who can make sure your loved one’s needs are met.

We will work with you to find the right match and ensure peace of mind so you can focus on helping your loved one get better.

Give us a call at (888) 541-1136 or send us a message at info@meetcaregivers.com.

For more, check out the Blog for senior living posts and other resources.

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