Depression is not a normal part of aging. As a caregiver, you should understand this. Your older adult’s station in life has changed. He or she may be slowing down, but that does not mean the depression he or she feels is part of the aging process. Depression, in and of itself, is not easy for the layman to diagnose, and in most cases, older adults who have depression are not receiving the attention that they need.
The disease can work in concert with other chronic illnesses. If your loved one has cancer, heart disease, dementia or diabetes, he or she may be more susceptible to experiencing depression. If your loved one does have depression, he or she may be at risk for complying less with treatments. Depression also can negatively affect a person’s blood pressure and heart rate, and lead to elevated insulin and cholesterol levels.
So how do you recognize depression in your loved one? Keep in mind that common symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping ARE part of the aging process.
However, if your loved one experiences these symptoms, along with loss of interest in enjoyable activities, crying spells, and memory problems not associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important that they have a professional assessment.
The older adult in your care may have been going through life changes like moving in with a relative or losing a spouse. Changes like these can trigger depression. First, you should take your loved one to his or her doctor for a full physical exam. You are probably aware of some ailments that your loved one has, but a full assessment and physical may lead to diagnoses that you are not aware of, including depression.
Being around someone who is depressed can make you feel sad, even angry at times. It’s important to understand that depression is an illness, not a sign of weakness. Making life as pleasant as possible can help your loved one feel better. Simple activities you both enjoy give structure to the day. Even a few minutes of pleasure lighten a sad mood.
- Listening to music
- Washing dishes
- Taking a short walk
- Playing with pets or children
- Looking at the moon, sunrise or sunset
- Going for a drive
Depression is one of the leading causes of suicide in older people — especially older men. If an older person talks about suicide, call a doctor or suicide prevention hotline immediately. Many people may never actually talk about their thoughts of suicide.
Signs that an older person may be thinking about suicide include:
- Recent loss, especially of a spouse
- Sadness, apathy, fatigue
- Giving away favorite possessions
- Low self-esteem
Symptoms of depression can also be signs of physical or other mental illnesses. Schedule a doctor’s visit for your loved one if you think he or she may be depressed. Most depressed older people can be treated successfully with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of treatments. Medications may improve physical symptoms of depression – sleeplessness, poor appetite, fatigue – and help your loved one feel better. Keep in mind, it may take two to six weeks or longer for the medicines to work. Make sure he or she continues to take the medicine and checks in with the doctor regularly.
Resource: National Institutes of Health