More than six million Americans over the age of 65 suffer from depression, which is often exacerbated by the holiday season. Not only can the holidays highlight feelings of loss for those who have lost a spouse, the post-holiday season may mean they are now alone, after spending days or weeks with family. Living alone is a major risk factor for depression and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28 percent of people aged 65 and older lived alone in 2010.
Unfortunately, depression in the elderly is frequently undiagnosed, often because the person suffering from the disease doesn’t discuss it, seeing it as a sign of weakness. Symptoms of depression – exhaustion, lethargy, and loss of interest in daily activities – can be signs of other medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, low blood sugar or even a Vitamin D deficiency.
So, if you suspect someone you care about is depressed, what can you do? Here are some tips:
Don’t assume that depression comes with age
As we grow older, we may slow down, become more susceptible to disease, and lose interest in things that once brought us joy. But these things are not a necessary part of aging nor do they mean one can’t still live a life of purpose and joy. Many older Americans continue to experience vibrant, satisfying lives even in their 80s, 90s and beyond.
Look for warning signs
Since many elders don’t want to be a burden to their loved ones, they won’t talk about what’s going on with them. Watch for subtle signs of distress, such as excessive wringing of hands or someone who is easily agitated or irritable. Let them know you are available to discuss their feelings and that you’re someone who will honor their emotions and provide support.
Help them get treatment
The good news is that depression is a treatable disease and seniors, as a group, typically respond well to treatment. Help your loved one find a doctor they’ll be comfortable with and go with them to the appointment. If they resist, don’t get angry and demand they seek treatment. Engage them in conversation and discover why they are resisting help. Our care managers can help in this process by assessing your loved one’s situation and making recommendations for proper care and treatment.
Encourage them to exercise
Exercise can improve depression – it has powerful mood-boosting effects. It can also improve other areas of one’s life, such as overall health, mobility, and an increased sense of well-being, which can help ease the symptoms of depression.
Help them stay connected to other people
Isolation is a huge trigger for depression, so connecting your loved one to social activities and other seniors in the area can work wonders. One of the most important assets of a home care caregiver is companionship. They can also take your loved one to a local senior center, or find an activity they enjoy and find a group that supports their passion. If they’re unable to get out due to a chronic medical condition, they can help seniors use the Internet for entertainment and connecting with others.
Give them a purpose for living
A study by MetLife showed that, regardless of age, gender, financial status or life stage, a majority of people assign the most importance in life to activities that have meaning, and this feeling increases with age. The meaning can be very small – from collecting recyclables from everyone in the neighborhood or babysitting their grandkids every Friday night – to something more profound, like volunteering for a worthy cause. Give your loved one a reason for living and they’ll be less prone to depression.