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One of the most common mental health issues found in aging adults is depression. Depression continues to grow at an alarming rate and one in ten Americans suffers from the illness. If you or a loved one struggles with depression, you are not alone and you don’t have to feel suffocated by this terrible condition. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years or older are affected by depression. Most people in this stage of life with depression have experienced this throughout their life while others develop this later in life and is usually closely associated with dependency and disability.
Depression is a disease that tends to be denied by the current generation of elderly people, many of whom were raised in an atmosphere where showing feelings was discouraged, and this adds to diagnostic difficulties.
Elderly patients may actively deny a depressed mood because of the perceived stigma of both depression and the need for help with psychiatric problems. So, how can you help a loved one who you think is suffering from depression? Here are three tips:
1. Don’t impose your terminology
‘No, I am not depressed’ may mean you need to listen carefully to discern what has changed in their life. For many elderly people, biological issues such as low appetite or poor sleep are more acceptable as reasons to request help. Try to use these issues as a hook to discuss ideas about how to sleep better or longer or improve appetite. Don’t say the words ‘depression,’ ‘drugs,’ or ‘therapy’ if an older adult doesn’t buy into the idea that they need help.
2. Don’t try to run that person’s life
Caregivers should not try to do things for older people that they can do for themselves. Doing things for a depressed person is often not helpful at all, because it reinforces their perception that they are worthless and incapable. Instead, help your elderly relative break tasks into steps and praise them for any efforts.
3. Try to participate in their medical care
Because of confidentiality laws, doctors can’t disclose information to families without the patient’s permission. Many older people will give that permission but some won’t. Asking if you can accompany the family member to the doctor, just to be a second set of eyes and ears, is a good way to get access.
Showing an interest in the life of an elderly person can be a great help in helping them work through depression. The life experiences of the elderly can seem to revolve around loss, loss of friends as they move or pass away, loss of physical abilities, loss of health and loss of independence. But there are still many joys that can be experienced and sometimes we need someone else to help us out of the darkness and back into the sun.
Detecting and assisting those who suffer from depression is extremely important. If you suspect that your aging loved one is becoming depressed, here are a few suggestions for helping them through it:
Make sure all physical needs are met
Occasionally, our loved ones are suffering more than emotional discomfort. Make sure they are comfortable in their current living situation. Is their home clean and well stocked with necessities? Are they financially stable enough to not have to worry about finances week to week? Make sure that all nutritional needs are being met. Unhealthy diets can be a trigger for depression. Even the simple act of spending the time to help them clean up, or cook meals can make a world of difference.
Sometimes all they need is someone to talk to. Make traditions such as Sunday visits with fresh flowers, or home baked food. Make plans to play their favorite card game with them each week. It’s possible that they might just want to sit in silence and watch television with you. The point is that they don’t want to feel alone.
Ask them what would make them happy, and make it happen
Sometimes getting to the root of the issue is as simple as just asking questions. After all, they know what will make them happy. Maybe they are really missing attending religious services, or they wish they could get out more often. Encourage them to speak up about their needs and address them as best as possible.
Take them out
Being confined within a small space for an extended period of time is enough to drive anyone crazy. Think about their daily life, and the variation of activities they partake in. Are they on a monotonous schedule? If you can, take them with you when you run errands or go out for lunch. From personal experience, simply taking my great grandmother out to her favorite lunch spot uplifted her for days.
Give them responsibility
Lots of times, senior citizens will report feeling a lack of purpose. Giving them small responsibilities will help them with feeling valued. Each person will have their own abilities and limitations, and what you decide to let them be responsible for will vary greatly depending on the situation. If they are able to drive, ask them if they wouldn’t mind driving children to extracurricular activities. Place a rescue pet in their care that they will need to feed and take care of. Keep regular physical therapy appointments and ask the doctor to make sure that they are giving them tasks to complete outside of therapy.
Dealing with depression in the elderly and addressing emotional health is a critical piece of overall wellness. Families looking for help and support in dealing with depression in an elderly loved one can turn to our BrightStar Senior team for help. Whether you’re caring for a loved one or thinking about exploring senior care options, our team is available 24/7 to come up with a solution that is custom tailored to your loved one’s needs and interests.
For more information on how BrightStar Senior Living can help you care for a loved one living with the holiday blues or even depression, call Bonnie at 608-620-7900.