With the growing number of seniors in the United States, it makes sense that depression in the elderly warrants a conversation. Whether you’re responsible for caring for your parents or they’re still independent, it’s important to recognize the signs of this insidious illness. It can creep up on the most diligent, and the depressed person could hide the ailment for personal reasons.

No matter the age of a person, it’s important for loved ones to take note of changes in personality so they can offer help when needed. And depression in the elderly is something that can occur just as quickly as in anybody else.

Depression

There isn’t just one type of depression. Nor is there only one way to become depressed.

1. Situational Depression

You may have heard people say they are depressed. This typically occurs when they have been feeling sad for some period of time. Situational depression is brought on by an event, such as:

  • The death of a friend or relative
  • Illness, especially prolonged
  • Change in physical abilities, such as walking unaided
  • Change in living situation

Most people will have some form of situational depression in their lifetime. If you know something might be going on with a loved one’s health or if a relative has recently passed away, understand that the signs and symptoms of situational depression should ease. In the meantime, it’s important to remain diligent and continue checking in on that senior to be sure that the “case of the blues” appears to be temporary. Seniors are easily susceptible to depression. There are a few reasons for this, but the most common causes may be a loss of mobility, independence, and family.

Even if it is something that should be temporary, some seniors may have a problem getting over it. Depression can keep someone sucked into sadness for far longer than it should. It may become easy for your mom just to tell you she’s fine, but when you go to visit her, you see she is not. The little things she used to do around the house have ceased. She didn’t bake your daughter’s favorite cookies, and she doesn’t want to go to the mall with you. Things like this are warning signs that your senior may be falling into a worse state of depression. When situational depression worsens, it may become clinical in nature.

2. Clinical Depression

elderly man with depression

Clinical depression is when there is a problem in the brain either due to a chemical imbalance or neurological misfiring. Whatever the cause, clinical depression is entirely treatable. Recent studies have begun to suggest that outside factors may, in fact, lead to chemical changes in the brain resulting in depression. This is how situational depression may lead to clinical. If left in a sad or depressed state for too long, the brain starts changing to adapt.

Depression is entirely treatable, and there are many routes that can be taken to do so. The most successful treatment is two-fold: medication and talk therapy. There are many medications available that treat depression. It may take some trial and error to find the one that works the best because each medication can work differently on each person. Some cause the brain to make more of one chemical or less of another. Other drugs act as supplements to the deficient chemicals.

It may be necessary to try more than one medication until the doctor is able to find the one that is the most successful. It’s important to support your senior during this period because if a change is not noted quickly, impatience may set in. You also have to remember to remain patient.

Also, keep this in mind

Talk therapy is a crucial component in the treatment of depression. It allows a third party, typically a psychologist, to help your senior talk through some of the situational elements that may be fueling the depression. These counselors may offer some advice such as activities or exercises that can be done to help further recovery. A counselor is an excellent ally in the fight to ease depression.

There are also group therapy environments that have proven to be very successful in aiding seniors recovering from depression. In group therapy, seniors will meet with others their own age, many of whom may be suffering from the same issues. A therapist, usually a psychologist, leads group discussions so that anyone who wants to participate can have a voice. Even if your senior doesn’t really engage with the group at first, just hearing the experiences of the other people in the group may help ease the stigma attached to depression.

Ongoing Treatment

depression in the elderly requires ongoing treatment

For some people, depression is a constant battle. While it may be relieved by medication and talk therapy, it may always be a condition they have to deal with in one way or another. The chemicals in the brain don’t just reappear overnight, and if medication is prescribed to supplement the missing chemicals, the depression may linger for a long time.

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If it does linger, it may cause those chemicals to regress back to their deficient levels. Therefore, it’s important to talk to your loved one about continuing the course of treatment recommended by the doctor. Positive reinforcement is a great way to ensure your senior stays the course and doesn’t give up, even when a setback occurs.

Stigma

Not too long ago, a diagnosis of depression came with a stigma attached. It was something to be ashamed of. These days, this is no longer the case; however, your aging mother remembers a time when it was. This “old school” thinking sometimes stops people from seeking the help they need. This is one reason why you, as a loved one and caregiver, should be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression to help encourage your senior to seek help.

Signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • General sadness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Irregular sleep patterns such as sleeping more than usual
  • Abnormal behavior such as making excuses for avoiding people
  • Isolation

This last symptom of depression, isolation, is critical to recognize in your aging parent.

Isolation

If your mom has suddenly stopped wanting to join you for a day of shopping, or if she made excuses to avoid leaving the house, you may want to speak to her about it. Isolation is a common symptom of depression, especially among the elderly community. This isolation is due mostly to the fact that it is easy to become shut-in if mobility is an issue. The isolation feeds the depression, and the cycle continues.

If you suspect your aging loved one is suffering from depression, do not wait too long to act. While the suggestion might be rebuffed and disputed, it is crucial it is said. If you usually accompany your mom to her medical appointments, you may want to speak to the nurse or doctor about your concerns. Typically doctors build questions into their regular intake that are designed to “fish” for symptoms of depression. Since they are aware that many seniors do have that stigma about admitting they have depression, the practitioners are often able to elicit that information in an effective but sly way.

If they ask the right questions in the right way, your mom’s medical care team will be able to diagnose her depression. Once diagnosed, most seniors are compliant and regimented with therapy, especially those with medications. Talk therapy may be something a little more challenging to get her on board with, but with further encouragement and maybe even some evidence, perhaps in the form of someone she knows who has done it before, she may be willing to give it a try.

Think About This Point Regarding Depression in the Elderly

At the end of the day, you want your aging loved one to get the help needed to live the best life possible. If you are concerned about the health and well-being of that loved one, whether it’s due to a physical issue or perhaps an emotional or mental one, be very open and honest about it. It doesn’t mean that your senior will be receptive or be accepting; however, it may get the wheels turning.

Perhaps your mother didn’t even consciously realize she was shutting herself in so much or letting her house go. Maybe she will admit that the death of her brother six months ago has really done a number on her emotionally, and sure, perhaps she hasn’t been able to “snap out of it.” That combined with the surrender of her driver’s license may have just been the final straws of her fragile and emotional psyche. Depression in the elderly is very treatable, so seek treatment and give the encouragement and support your loved one needs.

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