The changes that often come in later life—retirement, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, medical problems—can lead to depression. Depression prevents people from enjoying life like they used to. But its effects go far beyond mood. It also impacts one’s energy, sleep, appetite, and physical health. However, depression is not an inevitable part of aging, and there are many steps one can take to overcome the symptoms, no matter the challenges a person faces in life.
What is depression?
Depression is a mental disorder which causes emotional and physical problems. It was not recognized as a legitimate mental disorder until the mid 1800s, and from then on, numerous studies on this disorder widened the field of study and how it can be prevented, if not cured.
Can older adults have depression?
Contrary to general consensus in the past, older adults are at a higher risk of depression. As a person grows older, they notice more difficulties in their lives, and the sadness and frustration from it can make them feel empty. In cases where there is no one to take care of them or even show that they are not alone, the issue is further intensified. A problem cannot simply go away by itself, and if an older adult with depression is seen to with care and love, they can live a long and fulfilling life filled with love and self-satisfaction.
Symptoms of depression
- Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes
- Social withdrawal and isolation (reluctance to be with friends, engage in activities, or leave home)
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness)
- Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing)
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts
Depression clues in elders:
Older adults who deny feeling sad or depressed may still have major depression. Here are the clues to look for:
- Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Anxiety and worries
- Memory problems
- Lack of motivation and energy
- Slowed movement and speech
- Loss of interest in socializing and hobbies
- Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene)
- Health problems – Illness and disability; chronic or severe pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image due to surgery or disease.
- Loneliness and isolation – Living alone; a dwindling social circle due to deaths or relocation; decreased mobility due to illness or loss of driving privileges.
- Reduced sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities.
- Fears – Fear of death or dying; anxiety over financial problems or health issues.
- Recent bereavements – The death of friends, family members, and pets; the loss of a spouse or partner.
- Medical conditions can cause depression in older adults
It’s important to be aware that medical problems can cause depression in older adults and the elderly, either directly or as a psychological reaction to the illness. Any chronic medical condition, particularly if it is painful, disabling, or life-threatening, can lead to depression or make depression symptoms worse.
These include: Parkinson’s disease, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, thyroid disorders, Vitamin B12 deficiency, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis
Firstly, one thing that irks most people is when depression is dismissed as laziness, sadness or boredom. Depression, being a recognized illness, is not something to be taken lightly, and can cause many problems for people who suffer from it.
Medical solutions: Most of the time, depression can be treated effectively with medicine and psychotherapy. Each medication is catered to a certain type of depressive state, so it is wise to go to a physician and get a prescription instead of self-diagnosing.
Offer support, be patient: Even knowing that there are loved ones around can help. Knowing that they are not a burden to you, and that there are people to help them and listen, is enough of a boost, even if they are not volunteering any information. Making the older adults in your life feel like a part of your family will give them the extra strength to fend off negative feelings. Be patient with them.
Treat them like royalty: Draw them into activities, even simple ones such as going out for a walk, making something or organizing outings. Make them realize that you trust them enough with a project.
Never ignore the symptoms: Symptoms such as talking about suicide indicate severe depression. If a loved one speaks of taking their life, immediately inform the doctor. Talking about it can help them out.
Tips for elders:
It’s a myth to think that after a certain age you can’t learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that 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. Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones. If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are physically, mentally, and socially—the better you’ll feel.
Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. The best part is that the benefits come without side effects. You don’t have to hit the gym to reap the rewards. Look for small ways you can add more movement to your day: park farther from the store, take the stairs, do light housework, or enjoy a short walk. Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
Connect with others, face to face whenever possible. Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. You may not feel like reaching out, but make an effort to connect to others and limit the time you’re alone. If you can’t get out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or email. And remember, it’s never too late to build new friendships. Start by joining a support group for depression, a book club, or another group of people with similar interests.
Bring your life into balance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and the pressures of daily life, it may be time to learn new emotional management and emotional intelligence skills.
Other self-help tips to combat and prevent depression in older adults
- Get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, and take a daily multivitamin.
- Participate in activities you enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.
- Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.
- Take care of a pet. A pet can keep you company, and walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.
- Learn a new skill. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.
- 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.
- Practice Yoga and meditation
Disclaimer: Please contact your doctor if you feel your loved ones or elderly persons are suffering from depression. This article is to give knowledge and what steps one can take to overcome depression.