Of the 34 million Americans who are older than 65, over two million are currently suffering from depression. Seniors aged 65 and older also account for 20 percent of all suicide deaths, despite making up just 13 percent of the total U.S. population. As you can see, depression among seniors is a serious issue. Unfortunately, it’s also one that many people don’t know how to recognize.
Read on to learn how you can spot depression in an older friend, parent, or loved one and get them the help they need to recover.
1. Know the Signs
First things first, you need to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression. Some common signs to be on the lookout for include:
- Sudden, unexplainable aches and pains
- Loss of interest in hobbies or socializing
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
- Lack of energy
- Sleep changes (difficulty falling asleep, oversleeping, suddenly needing a nap during the day, etc.)
- Sudden concerns about being a burden
- Increased alcohol consumption
- Memory problems or changes in speech and movement
- Lack of interest in personal care (hygiene, medications, meals, etc.)
If your parent or loved starts exhibiting these symptoms — especially if they seem to come out of nowhere — there’s a good chance that they may be feeling depressed.
2. Know the Difference Between Depression and Dementia
When they notice memory changes in an older adult, many people automatically assume that person is exhibiting early signs of dementia. This might not necessarily be the case, though.
As mentioned above, memory loss and speech and movement difficulties can also be signs of depression in the elderly. Depression and dementia share a number of symptoms. Because of this, it’s important to know the difference between the two conditions so that you can help your loved one get the right kind of care.
Some of the primary differences between depression and dementia in seniors are explained below:
- Mental decline occurs rapidly in cases of depression, whereas it happens slowly in people with dementia
- People with depression may have difficulty concentrating, while those with dementia may have short-term memory loss
- Depressed seniors may speak or move more slowly, but they’ll still have control; in people with dementia, their writing, motor, and speaking skills are actually impaired
- Seniors with depression are usually aware of and concerned about their memory problems, but people with dementia usually do not notice these changes
If you notice a decline in cognitive function in your parent or loved one, whether you think it’s caused by depression or dementia, you need to seek medical treatment right away.
The sooner you take action, the sooner your loved one can get the treatment they need to improve their condition and overall quality of life.
3. Don’t Be Dismissive
Sometimes, when you notice that your parent or loved one is struggling, it’s tempting to look the other way and pretend nothing is wrong. This isn’t doing them any favors, though.
If a senior begins exhibiting signs of depression, or even tells you that they’re feeling depressed, take them seriously. Trying to brush off their struggles as being “all in their head” may discourage them from seeking the help they need to feel better.
At the same time, it’s also important to make sure you don’t go overboard in trying to help them. Being overbearing or expressing too much concern may actually make someone who’s suffering from depression feel worse or like they’re causing problems for you.
Instead of going overboard trying to help out, let your loved one know you’re there for them. Continue to encourage them to seek help and do things on their own, and don’t forget to praise them for their efforts.
4. Help Them Stay Active
Physical activity is essential for older individuals, both for their physical and mental health.
Regular exercise not only strengthens the muscles and bones to prevent injury, but it can also empower seniors and remind them that they’re still capable of doing difficult things even though they’re getting older.
Encourage the senior in your life to go for walks and resistance train. They may also want to consider signing up for classes like yoga, water aerobics, or tai chi. These kinds of classes serve two purposes. First, they help older adults stay active and maintain their physical and mental health. Second, they will help your loved one get to know other seniors with similar interests.
This second benefit is especially important for seniors who live alone and are more prone to feeling depressed or isolated.
5. Consider Home Care or an Alert System
For seniors who live alone, it’s important that they have people checking in on them regularly. If they have the budget, hiring a full-time home care aid can give them someone to talk to on a daily basis. The aid can also help them with chores like grocery shopping or laundry that may be difficult.
If home care isn’t in your loved one’s budget, or if they’re simply not interested, a medical alert system is another good option.
Medical alert systems don’t just prevent break-ins. Many of them are equipped with a special medical reminder function. This allows someone to call and check in with the user on a daily basis to make sure they’re okay and remind them to take their medications.
This kind of feature is especially important for people who are taking antidepressants or other drugs that must be taken on a consistent basis to be effective.
Keep a close eye on the senior citizens in your life. If you notice they may be exhibiting signs of depression, it’s important for you to be proactive and take appropriate steps to help them stay safe. Be involved (but not overbearing), encourage them to exercise, and recruit outside help so that they don’t feel isolated.
It’s always hard to deal with the fact that someone close to you is depressed. But, they need you to be strong to help them feel better. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll have an easier helping your loved one get through this difficult time.