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5 Steps to Combat Depression in the Elderly

by Melissa Bell
4 minutes read

The very nature of depression hinders a person’s capacity to seek help, draining energy and will to fight for recovery. For depressed elders, it can be even more difficult—especially if they don’t believe depression is a real illness and are too proud or ashamed to ask for assistance.

Clinical depression in the elderly is common, but this doesn’t mean that it is part of the normal process of ageing. It’s been said that later life depression affects a staggering average of 6 million elderly people aged 65 and older, and only 10% of these receive the proper treatment.

One of the leading causes of depression amongst the elderly is due to loneliness. The elderly are lonelier in society because they are essentially alone, placed into assisted care residences and retirement homes, their friendship groups have depleted and their families have flown the nest. According to recent studies, almost 20% of all senior citizens live alone, and 43% of these admit to feeling the sting of loneliness and depression on a daily basis.

Amongst loneliness, studies have shown that depression can be caused by ongoing health conditions such as insomnia, diabetes, dementia and cancer. Other contributing factors are the loss of a loved one, stressful life events and fear of dying.

Don’t ignore the symptoms:

Depression isn’t a passing phase, and isn’t a form of normal bereavement or stress. Some of the main symptoms include a withdrawal from social activities, a loss of appetite spanning over a couple of days. It’s important to recognise these signs and know how to handle them correctly. The majority of the time, depression sufferers aren’t even aware that they are depressed, so being abrasive and bombarding them with labels and terminology is never a great way to go.

Talk about their feelings:

Healthcare professionals believe that the elderly cope with loss much worse than younger people, as they have more memories and experiences with the person, so it’s vital to hear them out and honour their emotions. If your elderly loved one is going through a difficult or turbulent time, then it’s important to make sure that you hear them out. Listening offers direct comfort and support.

It’s important to let your loved ones know that they are cared for and that you are available for support – offer to sit with them for the morning, or drive them to any appointments they may have, or take a walk in the park. Remember, misery loves company.

Recognise depression as an illness:

Depression is a medical condition, that will most likely remain unless given the proper treatment and care. As a family member or friend, you can offer your support, but sometimes it is not enough. Treatment and therapy are essentially the most beneficial way for an elderly person to begin to feel more like themselves. Telling a depression sufferer to keep calm and carry on, or pull up their boots will not offer any comfort or help.

Try to participate in medical care:

Getting involved in your loved one’s medical care can give you a better insight into their mind set, and can also help them to feel more cared for and looked after. It’s understandable that life responsibilities can get in the way, separating you from your loved one. As a precautionary measure, it may be a good idea to arrange for other friends and family members to pay them visits, or even a social worker. There are systems, such as the Grandcare system, that can be integrated into homes, that can monitor your loved one’s activity and medication consumption, and can even let you communicate with them. There are so many different ways that you can feel actively involved, without being intrusive and abrasive.

Get active in their care:

Finally, after ensuring that they are receiving treatment, talking about their feelings and feel supported, getting active can be one of the most beneficial ways to combat your loved one’s depression. Jogging, swimming, dog walking and other activities will get their heart pumping and their brain releasing endorphins. Along with treatment, exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression, as it allows a person to focus, clear their mind and feel better in themselves.

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