Eldercare Series: Elder Depression

According to Mood Disorders Society of Canada, depression affects 5-10% of elders who live at home and a whopping 30-40% of elders who live in an institutional setting. While studies show that a good 80% of elders who seek help respond positively to treatment for depression, an estimated 90% of senior citizens suffer in silence and never seek help.

Why are people more likely to suffer from depression during their golden years?

  • They may not be able to get out of the home as much as they used to and may feel isolated.
  • Their elder friends may be in poor health and unable to socialize.
  • They may miss a loved one or friend who passed.
  • They may be afraid of passing themselves.
  • After retirement or injury they may feel “useless.”
  • They may feel like a burden on their loved ones.
  • Certain medications (like those for blood pressure, beta blockers, digoxins, sedatives, and steroids) increase the risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Their health may not be as good as it was. There are 7 health issues that are huge in being the culprit behind elder depression: cancer, diabetes, heart issues, low thyroid, low blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and having low B12 or folic acid levels.

What are the signs of depression that you should watch for?

Signs of depression can include:

  • Appetite changes, weight loss or weight gain.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Lack of energy/fatigue.
  • Agitation, anger, and/or aggressiveness.
  • Restlessness.
  • Isolating oneself from friends and loved ones.
  • Frequent headaches and/or body aches without cause.
  • Frequent upset stomach.
  • No longer being interested in things/activities that were previously enjoyed.
  • Giving away things of mental/monetary value.
  • Feeling emotionally numb or being overly emotional.
  • No longer caring about personal grooming.

“A depressive illness is more than just feeling sad. Depression affects the whole person including their feelings, thinking and physical health. It also lasts a long time. It’s important to know what to watch for. Anxiety and slowing of thoughts are common symptoms. For many seniors depression is often expressed through many vague complaints of physical aches and pain.” – Mood Disorders Society of Canada

Depression and anxiety aren’t “normal” at any age.

One of the main reasons that elders don’t seek help is that people assume depression is normal for older adults. Depression is not normal at any age, and no one should have to suffer alone with this serious medical condition. If your elder had a broken bone it would not be ignored and they would seek/receive medical treatment. Depression is a medical condition, and should be treated as such.

How can you help your elder?

If you suspect that your elder may be depressed, the best thing you can do is acknowledge this medical condition and take action. Your elder should not be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed, and you should let them know that the two of you are going to get through this hard time together.

Work with your elder’s Physician to develop a plan of care. Their Physician may suggest a combination of options, such as medications, talk therapies, and building a support system of friends and family.

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