Signs of Depression in the Elderly

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Even though depression may occur in the elderly, it is not a normal part of aging. Everyone feels sad or down every once in a while, but a prolonged period of depressed mood can cause both mental and physical health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression affects about 1-5% of the general elderly population, 13.5% in elderly who require home healthcare and 11.5% in older hospital patients. It is, unfortunately, not unusual for family, friends and professionals to ignore or dismiss signs of depressions in seniors as they may be mistaken for other diseases. However, knowing and recognizing the signs of depression in an elderly loved one are important steps in seeking needed help.

Depression Warning Signs

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Here are some warning signs to watch for:

  • A recent diagnosis of a chronic illness, especially if that illness reduces independence.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, including hobbies and social activities.
  • Isolation. As we age, a number of life changes, including, losing the ability to drive and the death of friends, may cause us to become increasingly isolated.
  • A decrease in mobility and overall functioning.
  • Difficulty stating a purpose in life.
  • Excessive worries about health problems, including a preoccupation with doctors’ appointments, tests and taking prescribed medicines.
  • Financial restrictions after retirement which may cause excessive worries about money.
  • Loss of friends in one’s age group.
  • Change in familial roles.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Persistent sadness.
  • Seniors with depression may feel that they are moving in slow motion.
  • Frequent tearfulness and sadness.
  • Feeling worthless or helpless.
  • Weight changes.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Somatic complaints (unexplained physical pain or gastrointestinal problems).

 

Dealing with an Aging Parent’s Depression

Once you have recognized the signs of depression in an elderly loved one, it is important to take the necessary next steps. When dealing with an aging parent’s depression, it is always helpful to first have them meet with their family doctor to have a comprehensive physical. It is important to rule out symptoms that mimic physical problems. The family doctor may then recommend a psychiatrist and/or a psychologist for your aging parent so that a comprehensive clinical evaluation can occur. If your senior loved one is diagnosed with depression, the following recommendations may be helpful:

1)     Encourage your senior loved one to continue to regularly follow-up with their psychiatrist, psychologist and/or family doctor.

2)     Reinforce the need for socialization. Help get them to social activities – if they are unable to drive, there are a number of transportation options available for seniors. If they need daytime supervision, an adult day program may be the best way to meet their needs.

3)     Involve your aging parent in family activities.

4)     Encourage exercise after medical approval.

5)     Encourage your aging parent to keep contact with friends and loved ones via phone and social media.

6)     Ensure that your aging parent is compliant with their medication.

7)     It may be necessary to involve multiple support systems, including family and friends into your senior loved one’s life.

8)     Make sure that your loved one eats on a regular basis. This may involve helping them get meals or enrolling in a meal program or grocery delivery service.

9)     Call your senior loved one to make sure that he or she gets out of bed, gets dressed, showers and is involved in daily activities.

 

As one ages, physical health problems often become the main focus of self-care. Remember, it is just as important to take care of one’s mental health. If you are concerned that your loved one is suffering from depression, make a call to their primary care physician for an initial evaluation. From there a psychologist or psychiatrist can help your loved one embrace life once again.