How You Can Help a Loved One Living with Depression
October is Depression Awareness month. 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, isolation 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. This means seniors – and those that care for them – need to be vigilant in noticing the signs of depression and discussing the issue with their doctors.
So, if you suspect someone you care about is depressed, what can you do? Here are some tips:
Become more aware of subtle signs in mood and behavior
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 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.
Recognize that depression isn’t “part of growing older”
As we grow older, we may slow down 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.
Help them get the treatment they need
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 become (or stay) physically active
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 also help ease the symptoms of depression.
Help them stay socially active
Isolation is a huge trigger for depression, so connecting your loved one to social activities and other people in the area can work wonders. Seek out your local senior center or place of worship and get an activities schedule. If your loved one is unable to get out due to a chronic medical condition, help your loved one 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. 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.