Top Health Threat to Seniors: Depression

grandpaDepression is NOT an inevitable part of aging. Changes that accompany later life—retirement, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, medical problems—can sometimes lead to depression. Depression prevents elderly loved ones from enjoying life. Aside from mood, depression impacts energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health.
Depression in later life frequently coexists with other medical illnesses and disabilities. Because of changes in an elderly person’s circumstances and the fact that elderly people are expected to slow down, doctors and family members may miss the signs of depression. Depression tends to last longer in elderly adults. It doubles their risk of cardiac diseases and increases their risk of death from illness. At the same time, depression reduces an elderly person’s ability to rehabilitate.

It helps be able to recognize the signs of depression such as expressing feelings of hopelessness or sadness that does not go away and loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, in order to pro-actively provide support.

Causes and risk factors that contribute to depression in the elderly include:

  • Loneliness and isolation – Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
  • Diminished sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
  • Health problems – Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
  • Medications – Many prescription medications can trigger or exacerbate depression.
  • Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
  • Recent bereavement – The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.

Here are some steps recommended by HelpGuide.org that can help your loved one overcome the symptoms, no matter the challenges they face.

  • Encourage them to learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people of learning new things and adapting to new ideas.
  • Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. Even if they are ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises they can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
  • Facilitate opportunities to connect with others, face to face whenever possible. Getting the support they need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. If you cannot get them out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit them or keep in touch over the phone or email.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Encourage healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, as well as taking a daily multivitamin.
  • Foster participation in activities they enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring them joy.
  • Encourage them to Volunteer. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better and expand their social network.
  • Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.

Make sure they get a checkup with their doctor and talk to their pharmacist regarding drug side effects and/or interactions, as symptoms of depression can also occur as part of medical problems such as dementia or as a side effect of prescription drugs.  Watch for suicide warning signs. Seek immediate professional help if you suspect that your loved one is thinking about suicide.

There is help for seniors who are dealing with depression. Be open about asking for professional help. There are experts who deal with these issues and know how to help. For more information visit Helpguide.org

For other helpful caregiving resources visit AlongComesGrandpa.com

 

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About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked in the geriatric healthcare field for over 25 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes" (http://www.AlongComesGrandpa.com). As a Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and enthusiasm to assist corporations in finding solutions to work/life balance challenges and pro-actively educate and empower their employees.
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