How to Help an Elderly Person with Depression

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When an elderly person experiences symptoms of depression, it should be taken seriously, and both medical care and life changes may need to occur. It is important to note that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression occurs in only about 1%-5% of the general elderly population. There are steps to take if you suspect that your elderly loved one is suffering from depression.

Signs of Depression

Be sensitive to the problem. Many people ignore when a senior claims to feel depressed. Be alert for the following symptoms of depression:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Excessive worries
  • Frequent tearfulness
  • Feeling worthless
  • Weight changes
  • Pacing or fidgeting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Somatic complaints (unexplained physical pain or gastrointestinal problems)
  • Withdrawal from social activities  

How to Help Your Elderly Loved One

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Encourage the senior to have a thorough check-up to rule out physical illnesses that may mimic or exacerbate signs or symptoms of depression. Both physical illnesses and depression are often overlooked in the geriatric population. During a physical, the physician can also perform a depression assessment to determine if the senior is experiencing depressive symptoms. Some questions may include: Are you feeling hopeless? Do you think about death? Do you no longer enjoy activities you previously enjoyed? Do you have problems sleeping? Do you have problems with your appetite? After performing the assessment, talking with the patient, and performing a physical examination, the physician can make recommendations concerning treatment for depression including the use of a medication, treatment by a therapist, or a combination of both.

The physician will also examine the patient for certain chronic illnesses that may worsen the symptoms of depression. They include:

  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Lupus
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Multiple sclerosis

Additionally, have the senior’s medications reviewed for possible side effects. Possible medications to review include:

  • Cardiovascular drugs, chemotherapeutics, antipsychotic drugs, antianxiety medications and sedatives, anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatory/anti-infective agents, stimulants, hormone drugs, and other drugs.

After a diagnosis of either depression, be assured that there is treatment available for older adults. Consider the following:

  1. Encourage the individual to seek professional help for depression.     shutterstock_45007222resized.jpg
  2. Suggest that the senior attend a support group.
  3. Be available to talk with the elderly individual so they don’t feel alone.
  4. Encourage specific forms of socialization for the elderly individual.
  5. List names of neighbors who are available for questions and help so the senior doesn’t feel alone.
  6. Have family and friends visit and reach out to the elderly individual.

It is important to remember that depression is not prevalent for seniors. If you suspect that an elderly loved one in your life is suffering from depression, make sure they receive a comprehensive physical including a mental health screening, and find ways to incorporate socialization and purpose. If you are worried about a senior in your life, Abramson Care Advisors can help you locate services. A senior care expert is available for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 215.371.3400.