A full, happy life is a goal of most Americans.
Being fully engaged in our day to day activities, our communities and our families is the foundation of a balanced life.
Unfortunately, studies tell us that a large number of seniors are not leading fully engaged, happy lives and actually feel a sense of loss of all joy.
Many seniors are depressed. Not just a sense of sadness from time to time, but depression.
Why should caregivers be concerned about depression in their senior loved ones?
Often depression can impair your senior’s ability to complete their daily tasks, care for themselves, interact with family and friends thereby reducing their quality of life.
When Depression Strikes
Depression can happen to anyone, at any time and any age and is not an outcome of aging itself.
We can age without becoming depressed.
As many as 5% of seniors who are otherwise healthy are estimated to be depressed. More than two million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression.
13% of older adults who have home health care and are aging in place are depressed.
15-20% of older adults who live in our communities suffer from depression.
25-35% of older adults who live in long term care facilities have symptoms of depression.
Older adults with symptoms of depression have about 50% higher healthcare costs than non-depressed seniors. However, only 40% of depressed seniors seek treatment.
Depression is NOT a result of aging as many people might believe.
What Can Cause Senior Depression?
Depression is a medical condition that can be treated just like any other disease process if seniors and family caregivers recognize it and get the treatment needed.
There are contributing factors that can increase the likelihood that your senior loved one will be depressed including:
- medications, especially multiple medications
- loss of independence or retirement
- grief, especially after the death of a spouse, child or beloved pet
- transitions such as leaving their home or moving to a new town
- illness, chronic medical diseases
- isolation, aloneness
- financial worries
- chronic pain
- awareness of increased confusion or memory problems
Outcomes of Depression in Seniors
Depression can put your senior loved one at risk in many ways.
It can affect every aspect of a senior’s life including eating, sleeping, self-care, social interactions and their health.
Untreated depression in older adults can lead to a variety of problems, including alcoholism, substance abuse, and even suicide.
Many people don’t seek help because they may feel that it won’t help because whatever is causing the depression will continue.
Someone living with severe pain and depression is four times more likely to attempt suicide.
Every 100 minutes an older adult dies by suicide, the highest overall suicide death rate of any age group.
What Can Caregivers Do?
Encourage your senior loved one to talk to someone if they feel unhappy. You might need to facilitate these interactions with someone who can help.
Symptoms of depression can include fatigue, withdrawing from activities, sadness, worry, restlessness, abnormal sleep patterns, anxiety or irritability, use of alcohol or drugs, or suicidal thoughts. Seek help from your doctor, family members, religious leaders, or counselors.
If you spot these symptoms in your senior loved one, you may need to offer help even if he/she doesn’t ask.
Most older adults come from a time when mental illness was a bad thing that you didn’t want to admit, there still is a stigma for many to admit they are depressed and need help.
Other seniors are more preoccupied with medical conditions and don’t pay attention to emotional issues. Sometimes these feelings cause seniors to blame themselves and therefore don’t seek treatment.
They will need your help to get the intervention they need.
Tips to Help Seniors
As a family caregiver, your influence will be vital to their happiness.
You can not only strongly encourage interventions but also be a role model and a buddy, facilitate activities and schedule professional help as needed.
Here are some areas where caregivers can intervene:
- Reduce their isolation. Get them busy within the community, perhaps with a senior center, church group or volunteer opportunity. Set up a visiting schedule with family and friends so that they will stay engaged. This can be not only in person but via FaceTime or Skype.
- Help them learn something new. Find ways for them to get a new hobby that can occupy their time. Learn a new skill, something that they wanted to do but never actually did such as painting, playing the piano, or recording their life story. There are many avenues to learn something new, especially through the use of technology, that don’t require transportation or even a lot of money.
- Doing something for others. Help your senior find a new sense of purpose. What can they do to help someone in the neighborhood, community or local agency? Can they interact at the local school reading to kids or teaching kids to read? Would they enjoy helping in the library or museum?
- Get them physically active. Put activity into their routine. Take a walk, find a place to swim, dance or other activity your senior enjoys to get them moving! This is best done with a buddy who can keep them on schedule or make the activity more enjoyable.
- Ask for a medication review. Ask the pharmacist or doctor to review your senior’s medication list to determine if something they take is causing depression to take hold. Interactions or dosages can be contributing to their change in feelings. Some medications, such as antidepressants or sleep aides, can make things worse, so consult with your senior’s doctor about what is right for them.
- Help them sleep well. Improving the environment for sleep and helping seniors get a good, restful night’s sleep will help their outlook and their health. This may mean watching what they eat and drink in the evening, limiting daytime naps, and changing things in the bedroom including the mattress, curtains or temperature.
- Urge them to eat for health. Being well nourished so that your senior loved one’s body has the nutrition it needs to function properly will help both their physical and mental well-being. Eating a variety of wholesome foods, including protein sources, and limiting added sugar that could be causing blood sugar spikes. Make each meal well balanced. Don’t skip meals. Eat every few hours to keep energy and nutrient intake at its peak.
- Arrange counseling with a professional. Don’t let your senior keep their feelings to themselves, as this could lead to more problems, such as suicide. Sometimes talking about what worries us can help lighten our load. A mental health professional may help your senior express their feelings in order to determine root causes and work on solutions. Seek out support groups, peers and faith based support who might be able to help. If depression is triggered by social issues such as lack of resources, contact a social worker or case manager to help fill the gaps in resources.
Help Improve Seniors’ Quality of Life
Family caregivers can help accomplish these interventions to improve your senior’s quality of life.
You can speak with their doctor, observe them more closely, help them get involved by taking them out to eat or shop and keep in contact with them more often.
Taking and sharing meals to reduce isolation and improve nutrition, sharing activity time, asking friends to visit, connecting them with technology for socialization and activities, and arranging transportation to the senior center are things you can do to help them alleviate and reduce depression symptoms or prevent worsening.
You will notice a difference when you help them escape depression.