Dealing with Senior Depression – A Guide for Caregivers

Depression in seniors is unfortunately very common. This guide will help you in dealing with senior depression, give you ideas, tips and answers to many of your questions. Read on to know everything you need to know

The saddest thing about depression is that it is silent, and you cannot tell if someone is doing well emotionally or wearing a mask to hide their true feelings. 

While depression isn’t necessarily a part of growing old, CDC has observed that more than 52% of adults in old age suffer from at least one chronic illness, which sooner or later results in depression and anxiety. 

Dealing with Senior Depression - A Guide for Caregivers

Many medical professionals think that senior depression is expected, considering people go through so much grief and pain throughout their lives. However, as a caregiver, you can help them deal with it all in a better way and make them feel supported. 

Signs of depression in seniors 

As per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of depression in senior adults – 

Crying or being anxious most of the time

If your parent or any other senior family member is utterly cheerful usually but has suddenly withdrawn or gets teary-eyed for no reason, then the chances are that they are dealing with old-age depression. Even if their nature is reserved, you will still notice them being anxious, unusually sad, and zoned out most of the time. 

You might like to read: Caregiver’s Guide to Reduce Anxiety for Seniors

Pessimistic attitude

Depression, even in old age, can create a feeling of being a burden to others. The person may feel hopeless with no way to get out, guilty for wasting your time, unexplainable sadness, and get a feeling of worthlessness.

They may snap over small things, get irritated quickly, and then break down crying. While it happens to the best of us at times, someone who is depressed cannot get out of it, even after months. 

Feeling tired all the time

When your loved one feels zero energy in them for a prolonged period or remains tired throughout the day, this could be a sign of depression. However, this can also be a sign of a chronic illness, and thus, you should immediately see a healthcare professional for a body check-up. 

Dealing with Senior Depression - A Guide for Caregivers

Suicidal thoughts

Meet a professional psychiatrist immediately if your senior family member has thoughts of death and suicide. Most people say that they have control over their ideas, which is not the case when they have extreme mood swings. Thus, you must go to a professional and help them take control of their life. 

Disrupted or lack of sleep

Depression can affect a person’s sleeping habits, and they may either sleep too much or too little or not at all. People also wake up in the middle of the night and feel tired after waking up. 

There are several other symptoms of depression, including losing appetite or overeating, loss of interest in hobbies or daily activities, not feeling well without any physical symptoms, struggling to make decisions, problem concentrating on tasks, forgetting a word, etc.

You might like to read: Tips For Supporting Someone With Suicidal Thoughts

Is it depression or grief in seniors?

Someone who is grieving will show some common expressions such as intense feelings of sadness, guilt, anxiety, anger, denial, decreased concentration, temporary loss of interest in their favorite hobbies and daily activities, low levels of energy, loss of appetite and sleep or too much sleep and unusually high appetite, etc.

Signs of Grief

Grief usually lasts for a few days, weeks, or maybe a few months. As and one a person processes their emotions, the pain passes away, and they get back to their usual self. 

However, each person’s grieving process can last for as long as a year or more, depending on their system. Grief is normal to have, especially after a heart-breaking event. 

Dealing with Senior Depression - A Guide for Caregivers

Signs of Depression

Depression may seem like grief, but it is more than that. It doesn’t improve over time, and people keep struggling with their life for uncountable years, if not diagnosed. People do not sleep for days, lose interest in eating or even move their bodies to feel better. 

It is a state of being numb due to overwhelming emotions and so much more. If your loved one shows signs of either grief or depression, it is best to get them to a mental health professional before things go out of hand. 

How to talk to them about depression? 

Now that you can tell the signs of depression in your senior loved one, it is time for the hard part – talk to them about the same. Yes, it might not be easy, but it has to be done at some point. 

Firstly, you can sit with them for a while and ask them/encourage them to talk about what they are feeling. It might be a bit hard to break them, so we would suggest you talk about someone who has been in a similar situation as them, even if it is a made-up person and situation. This gives people the strength to speak up since they realize that they aren’t alone. 

Secondly, be prepared to listen, talk less, and help them come to a solution so that they can feel better. It will take more than a conversation to convince them about the same.

Have compassion for them and ask questions about their health, for example, “I have seen you a bit down lately, is everything okay?” or “I know things have been very hard for you, are you okay?”

Thirdly, even if they do not ask for it, suggest the names/information of specific mental health professionals and therapists to encourage them to seek help. It might make them uncomfortable, but it is essential to do your job.

It will at least trigger them to know more about depression and anxiety if nothing else. Many people have no clue about this problem, and they continue to live their lives in the shadows. 

Dealing with Senior Depression - A Guide for Caregivers

Role of a caregiver in dealing with senior depression 

Your role as a caregiver to your parents or an old family member suffering from senior depression starts the minute you notice their symptoms.

Yes, it can be difficult for you to accept that someone close to you who has been so cheerful, happy, and optimistic all their life is pleased and sad. However, you must also look at the bright side of the whole situation so that they can finally get help and get out of this unfortunate situation. 

Convince them to see a doctor 

Once you tell them about signs of depression, they might rage and get angry at you – this is normal – continue putting across your point and convince them to at least see a doctor. Please schedule an appointment with the doctor and accompany them there.

After having a single conversation with a doctor, your loved one will be convinced that living in darkness is not natural for them, and they deserve to live happily and peacefully for the rest of their lives. 

Consider the most effective treatment for your loved one

If your parent or senior family member gets diagnosed with depression, the next step would be to find an effective treatment method. Below are some of the recommended healing methods for aging adults – 

Talk therapy

Self-expression would probably be the best way to heal one’s sad emotions. In this therapy, a mental health professional will be assigned to talk and let all those stuck emotions out of your system. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and supportive therapy are a part of this process. 

You might like to read: Tips For Caregivers Of Mental Health Patients

Medicine

Certain medications change/balance the brain chemistry and put the irritability and anxiousness at rest. It results in a decrease and, sometimes, the disappearance of the problem. 

Art therapy

Art has always been healing to the human soul. From painting to poetry and pottery, one can transmute their sad emotions and stuck energy into a positive one. It works wonderfully for humans of all ages.

Dealing with Senior Depression - A Guide for Caregivers

Pet therapy

Studies have shown that being in regular contact with a pet brings significant improvement in mood and, thus, reduction in depression and anxiety as well. Additionally, adopting a pet will also ease their loneliness, one of the main factors of senior depression.

Support groups

While the above therapies work wonderfully on many people, joining a support group has always been a great idea for senior citizens. Meeting people of their kind and befriending many of them has been life-changing for many. 

Provide assurance 

As a caregiver, you must be present with your parents or relatives when they are processing the news of them being depressed and finding a therapy that would suit them the best. Assure and reassure them that you will be there for them no matter what and that everything will be alright. 

Validate their feelings and in no way make them feel that they are mentally sick because, honestly, depression doesn’t mean that they are mad or crazy or ill in their head; it is just a condition that should be taken care of, like any physical wound or injury. 

Help them with meals

Our gut essentially helps in the improvement of brain functions. Thus, it will be recommended by the professional to bring specific changes in your diet to strengthen your brain. 

As a caregiver, you can assist them in preparing their meals, primarily if they are not used to eating a healthy diet. You can have fresh, leafy vegetables, blueberries (extremely good for brain functioning), smoothies, protein, and a fiber-rich food, etc., in their meals. 

Dealing with Senior Depression - A Guide for Caregivers

Stay calm throughout the situation. 

Being a caregiver to a senior family member can be pretty challenging. From convincing them to see a doctor assure them that they will be all right soon; it can be exhausting and, at times, dreadful. Thus, it is essential for you to first take care of yourself and your emotions by staying calm in every situation. 

Reacting to the anger and agitation of the senior member will only result in more negativity. Thus, you must practice mindfulness and prepare yourself to stay calm throughout the process of appointment, diagnosis, and treatment. Once they are fine, you can talk things through or let it all go since they are old and already suffering. 

You might like to read: Caregivers Guide to Providing Emotional Support

The treatment is working – now what?

Once the treatment starts, your parent or loved one will start showing the signs of the same well. It can begin within two days of therapy or take a few weeks or months, depending on the severity of the situation. Once your loved one starts showing improvement, you can heave a sigh of relief. 

However, once they are out of their depression, it doesn’t mean that they can’t relapse. So, you have to have that conversation with them as well and let them know that there are ways to keep their energy high and to flow and below are a few suggestions.

Meditation

Those who have been meditating for years can assure your parents that it works in calming down your mind and body and keeps you in charge of your brain and not the other way around. Ask them to practice it daily no matter what, and they will see the results. 

Journaling

Even writing two pages for two minutes every morning and night will help them release unwanted emotions. Journaling has proven to miraculously heal people from their suffering and negative emotions. Dive deep, and you will see how transforming it can be.

Dealing with Senior Depression - A Guide for Caregivers

Art therapy

Even after you are through with treatment, you can continue gardening, writing, coloring, painting, baking, etc., to keep your emotions positively charged. It will keep your parents busy, less lonely, and away from depressive thoughts. 

Move their body

It is no rocket science that our bodies are designed to move and not stay still. So, ask your parents to practice yoga, go for walks, and keep moving from one place to another every hour, and this will keep their thoughts healthy and positive. 

Wrapping up 

Depression is a severe problem, especially in today’s world, where our mind is never truly at rest and is always rushing somewhere. It is essential to educate our senior members and ourselves to take time out and listen to our hearts. 

Charge and rejuvenate our senses from time to time and keep our minds healthy – depression will then have no chance against our elders and us. 

We hope the information that we have given out in this article will help you deal with the depression and anxiety of your older loved one. If you have any queries about this guide, you can drop us a comment and we will try to get back to you quickly with an answer.

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