Everyone gets sad from time to time, and our aging parents go through many transitions in life that can bring emotional weight into their lives. They may lose friends and family to illness or old age, and they may struggle with isolation, loss of independence, or illness themselves. But depression is more than sadness, and more than just a hard day or tough week. When these feelings don’t seem to pass on their own, it can mean a senior is suffering from depression – and may need help or support to cope.
Clinical depression is when sad, heavy, or hopeless feelings don’t go away, and it can be debilitating. If feelings of sadness or hopelessness are present most of the day, and for more than a couple of weeks, it could be depression. It can affect people of any age, and seniors are as much at risk as much as any other age group. However, it may not be obvious to those around them that they are suffering. Seniors may be more isolated than other age groups, or in some cases, symptoms of depression can masquerade as complications of aging or other health conditions.
There are some common warning signs you can keep watch for, and if you notice changes or a new pattern of any of the below, it may be time to have a gentle discussion about your concerns with your mom or dad, or their health care provider.
Warning signs to watch for:
1. Lack of motivation or energy
Have they changed routines, or reduced activity levels? Do they opt to ride or drive instead of walk, or seem listless compared to normal? Are they indoors more than usual?
2. Reduced attention to personal care
Watch for sudden changes in their ability or desire to take care of their personal hygiene. If you visit or see them regularly, or speak with someone who does, pay attention to these changes.
3. Weight loss or change in appetite
Seniors who are experiencing depression often lack the desire or motivation to get out and shop for healthy food, and they may not feel up to cooking for themselves. If you notice a change in their eating habits, weight, or find food spoiling on their counters or in their fridges, take note.
4. Sadness or hopelessness
Feeling sad over loss or difficulty is perfectly normal, but when these feelings don’t subside or are accompanied by feeling hopeless or helpless, it may be time to seek help.
5. Decreased social involvement
Have you noticed dinner invitations being refused, or regular commitments like church or other community engagements being missed lately? This can be a warning sign that your mom or dad aren’t feeling themselves. It may be worth asking why and encouraging them – but if they refuse, monitor the change to see how long it lasts.
6. Aches and pains without medical explanation
Many seniors experience pain related to existing health conditions or old injuries. However, complaints of aches that don’t seem to have a medical cause can sometimes be a red flag.
7. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Seniors like to feel connected and valued just like anyone else, but when depression affects their perspective, they can feel as though they don’t belong, aren’t needed, or are simply a burden on family and friends.
8. Talking about death or suicide
While facing mortality is a reality for many seniors, and can be done as part of a healthy acceptance of aging, too much of a focus on death can be a warning that something is wrong. Any mention of suicide should be considered an immediate red flag and medical help sought as soon as possible.
It’s important to rule out underlying health conditions or side effects of medications when trying to diagnose depression in seniors. Seek advice and support from their family doctor first in case there are other issues causing similar symptoms. It’s also a good idea to consider if changes you see are dementia related or signs of depression, and bring this up in the discussion as well.
Treatment may include individual or group therapy, increased social supports, as well as medication such as antidepressants. Always keep an open line of communication with their health care practitioner to ensure that medications are managed properly, and taken as prescribed, for as long as instructed. Medications can take time to make a difference, and it can be dangerous to reduce a prescription or quit without the supervision of a doctor.
While there is no “cure” for depression, there are absolutely ways to manage and alleviate it via health care, support groups, and adding or changing daily habits. Support from friends and family can also prove valuable in reducing symptoms of depression.
It is normal for our moms and dads to experience the full spectrum of emotions we all do as they age. They’ll have days where they may sound down, and others where they seem happy and cheery. They may have fluctuations in their energy levels or overall health, however, if you notice patterns that concern you, don’t hesitate to reach out for health advice and support.
We care about your senior parents, and will help you consider the best care options for them. We can recommend support services that can help keep your senior connected, safely taking medications, and eating well through a difficult time. If you have questions or feedback on what you just read, please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you.
~ Senior Homecare by Angels Calgary team