happy senior couple smiling fighting depression

Helping Elderly Family Members Deal with Depression

When you have an elderly loved one coping with depression, knowing how to help can be difficult. Thanks to a complex mix of factors, older people are at an increased risk of depression, and seniors whose family members understand how to adequately address the problem will fare better than their unsupported counterparts. Because of this, it’s essential for the family members of seniors to understand the risk factors, signs, and treatment options of senior depression. Read on to learn more.

What is Senior Depression?

Depression is a condition that causes an individual to feel sad, hopeless, and lethargic. While it affects people of all ages, classes, and genetic backgrounds, it is especially rampant in seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7 million American seniors (Aged 65 or older) suffer from depressive symptoms each year. These numbers are startling, and it’s clear that senior depression is a real issue facing our older population today.

What Causes Senior Depression?

Depression is a complex disease, and various factors cause it. While it’s impossible to trace any case of depression back to a single causative issue, professionals believe that the following things all influence the presence of depression in seniors:

  • Genetics: There is some evidence to suggest that depression is genetic, and the elderly are more likely to suffer from depression if someone in their family has suffered from it in the past.
  • Stress or loss: Seniors who have recently lost a spouse or are experiencing stress because of a move (to an assisted living facility, for example) or a new life event (a newly diagnosed illness) are at increased risk for depression.
  • Shifting brain chemistry: Brain chemistry is a major factor in senior depression. When certain chemicals are imbalanced in the brain, depression occurs, and since seniors’ brains change markedly as they age, they’re at increased risk for chemical imbalances and depressive symptoms.

What are the Signs of Senior Depression?

Senior depression manifests in many ways. Some of the most common are as follows:

  • The senior may feel sad, hopeless, or empty
  • The senior may experience severe mood swings, and become angry, hysterical, or inconsolable for seemingly no reason
  • The senior may be unable to find enjoyment in pastimes he or she used to love
  • The senior may be unable to concentrate on things like work, friendships, and responsibilities
  • The senior may experience difficult with healthy sleep patterns, either sleeping barely enough or sleeping so much that their daily patterns and responsibilities are disrupted
  • The senior’s eating habits may change, and they may begin to eat more than usual, or stop eating altogether
  • Some seniors who are experiencing senior depression will have suicidal thoughts, and may attempt suicide in extreme cases
  • Physical symptoms are common with senior depression, and affected individuals may experience headaches, vomiting, digestive upset, and pain

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your senior family member, it’s time to get the individual to a medical professional for further evaluation.

Helping Seniors Cope with Depression: 5 Tips

If your family member has been diagnosed with senior depression, it’s natural to feel helpless. You want to provide support, but you’re not sure where to start. You’re not alone in feeling this way – most people who have a family member diagnosed with senior depression experience the same emotions. Luckily, there are things you can do to help. Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Be available for your loved one

One of the most powerful things you can do for someone who has recently been diagnosed with senior depression is simply to lend a helping hand. For a few weeks after the diagnosis, it’s normal for your loved one not quite to feel like themselves. If they’ve been put on antidepressant medication, their sleep, eating, and daily patterns may be disrupted.

During this time, be as available as you can to the person. Offer to run routine errands or cook some meals to alleviate the burdens of daily life. Alternately, you can simply lend a listening ear. Most seniors feel confused by and afraid of their diagnosis, and the ones who want to talk will appreciate a willing ear.

  1. Get educated

The more you can learn about senior depression, the better. When you have the facts and statistics on your side, you’re better prepared to deal with the ups and downs of the condition. SAVE is a great resource for facts and information on senior depression for those who want online information. It’s also likely that the hospitals, assisted living facilities, and hospice centers in your area offer support groups aimed at helping friends and family members learn about and cope with senior depression. Call these organizations for more information.

  1. Accompany your loved one to therapy

Many doctors recommend therapy as a course of treatment for senior depression. If this is the case, you can help by offering to give your loved one a ride to their therapy sessions and, if they want, accompanying them to the session itself. Be advised that many seniors feel ashamed of the fact that they are attending therapy, and one of the most beneficial things you can do is to normalize the process as much as possible. Provide plenty of reinforcement about the fact that therapy is normal and healthy, and that there’s nothing to feel ashamed of. If it helps, consider supplying the senior with helpful resources on the country-wide rate of depression and the benefits of talk therapy. Knowledge is power, and these resources may help remove some of the stigmas from the process.

  1. Handle household tasks

If a depressed senior has stopped cooking, cleaning, or shopping, rally a team of people to take over these duties. Normalcy is a powerful treatment for depression, and family members who want to lend a helping hand can do so by cooking freezer meals for the senior, pitching in to complete household chores, and seeing after any pets the senior may have. In addition to keeping the senior’s life running, these simple things also help prevent dangerous things like malnutrition from setting in for the senior.

  1. Laugh (when appropriate)

We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine, and it can be a powerful treatment for a senior suffering from senior depression. If you feel like your loved one is up to it, consider taking in a funny play or going out to see the grandchildren. Laughter helps restore a senior’s outlook, and can make a huge difference in a person’s perception. Of course, it’s not wise to make fun of a serious situation, but a little bit of well-placed laughter can work wonders for a senior’s well-being.

Senior Depression Affects Thousands, but you can Help

While senior depression is a common condition, there are things you can do to help your loved one. By offering support, taking over household tasks, facilitating appointments, and doing what you can to restore normalcy and joy to a senior’s life, you can help your family member make his or her way through senior depression as gracefully as possible.