7 Ways to Help the Elderly with Depression
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The risk for depression increases as people age, making the elderly a very high-risk group for this condition. The elderly are largely underserved and the highest risk of suicide in the United States is associated with the elderly. Many people in this age group feel shame and embarrassment over this mental health condition, making it less common for them to seek and receive proper treatment. Because of this, it is critical that everyone know how to help their elderly loved ones when they are experiencing depression. For many elderly individuals born into the 1940's, 50's, and 60's, depression is associated with the notion that one is "weak willed", so they may mask their pain from others and avoid treatment.
Do Not Dismiss Their Symptoms
It is easy to dismiss the symptoms of depression in the elderly and think that they are simply associated with aging, but you should take seriously any changes in behavior or habits. For example, of you notice that someone is seeing their friends less frequently or not seeing their family as often as they once did, you should see this as a red flag that could indicate depression. A general rule of thumb is that if these issues go on for longer than two weeks, it is a good idea to suspect depression.
Ask Them How They Feel
Getting older comes with a lot of changes and these changes can be hard to cope with. The elderly are losing friends and some of their independence, both of which can quickly lead to depression. Talk to them and ask them how they feel about the changes happening in their life. In some cases, simply being able to get their feelings out will take a tremendous burden off of their shoulders and reduce the risk of depression. It also gives you a clue as to whether or not depression may already be present.
Look for the Subtle Signs
When an elderly person is depressed, they often hide their feelings because they do not want to burden their loved ones. Look for signs like excessive wringing of the hands, difficulty sitting still and getting easily irritable or agitated. All of these behaviors indicate that something may be wrong that warrants further attention.
Be Wary of Your Vocabulary
If you suspect that an elderly loved one is depressed, it is important to avoid being straight up about this. This is because they will often deny being depressed because they do not want to be a burden to you, and they do not like the stigma associated with depression. Talk to them about general things to learn more about how they are feeling and if their behaviors have changed. If you suspect depression and want to encourage them to get some help, it is important to avoid words like "therapy" or "drugs" because these have a negative meaning for many elderly people. This can lead to them actually being more resistant to wanting to get the proper treatment for their depression. Instead of using medical terminology, ask them if they are feeling "down" or "blue" recently.
Depression is an Illness
It is important that you remember that depression is an illness that requires proper treatment, just like diabetes and heart disease. Depression can cause significant long-term disability, and without the right treatment, there is a high risk of it getting worse and even contributing to dementia. Your elderly loved one's depression may be so significant that they are unable to get out of bed or eat meals. This is not something that they can simply get over, so it is critical that they reach out to a healthcare professional for the proper treatment.
Do Not Hover and Take Over
It is easy to constantly try to keep an eye on a loved one when they are depressed because you love them and you are worried about them. However, taking over their life is actually counterproductive and can cause further issues for your loved one. You want to work toward encouraging them to start doing things for themselves again. This increases their feeling of independence which can reduce depression in the elderly.
Take Part in Their Medical Care
Going to the doctor for depression treatment can be very scary for elderly people. You can help by taking part in their care. Something as simple as going to the doctor with them gives them comfort and helps them to stay motivated to keep up with their appointments. It also gives you some peace of mind because you will have a better idea of how they are truly doing.
These tips will help you to help your loved one. It is critical that they receive the proper help and treatment in a timely manner, and as long as they get the right treatment, they can get better and their risk of suicide and depression-induced dementia decreases immensely. Keep this information in your mind, especially when you are visiting with an elderly loved one so that if they are depressed, you can aid them in obtaining help as soon as possible.
- Rosemary Kitchen
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2015). Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress. Retrieved on February 4, 2015 from http://www.adaa.org/tips-manage-anxiety-and-stress
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2015). Depression. Retrieved on February 4, 2015 from http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression