There’s an aging stereotype that you might have experienced: the grouchy or sad older person. While depression and anxiety are not normal signs of aging, it seems like everyone believes that feeling sad just comes along as we get older. As the focus on mental health and wellness grows, it is important for seniors and their loved ones to understand the implications of depression, including how to notice it and treat it in order to improve their quality of life. Here’s what you need to know.
Prevalence of Depression in Older Adults
The “grouchy and sad older person” stereotype is simply not true. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 5% of seniors in the community are diagnosed with depression. That number, however, does increase to nearly 13% for those older adults who need medical assistance or hospitalization.
The good news is, then, that we aren’t doomed to be depressed as we get older. However, we are more vulnerable to loss and life changes as we age, which can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Decreased mobility and chronic health conditions also are linked to increased depression.
The Blues vs. Depression
Due to life transitions, health complications, and more loss, seniors are more likely to experience bouts of sadness or loneliness. Understanding the difference between feeling sad and living with depression can be helpful. While feeling “blue” is uncomfortable and sad, it is normal, especially when a senior is experiencing isolation or living with chronic pain or medical complications.
Depression, in contrast, interferes with daily life. In seniors, symptoms of depression can include:
- Feeling restless or irritable
- Having more pessimistic views toward life
- Inability to sleep or establish healthy sleep patterns
- Appetite changes, either eating more than normal or less than normal
- Persistent health conditions, like headaches or stomach irritability
- Giving away items
- Stopping communication with family or friends
- Poor hygiene or refusing care
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
If you or your loved one seems depressed or simply not themselves, schedule a follow-up appointment with their physician. Bring along your observations, including specific things you notice that are abnormal. Your loved one can share how they are feeling and the physician can complete a depression screening onsite. Remember, feeling sad all the time is not a normal symptom of getting older but is a potential sign of depression, which is a treatable condition.
Supporting Your Loved One
If your loved one has depression, their support system becomes even more crucial to their treatment. Here are a few things you can do that can support them:
- Schedule prescription medication delivery and set up their pillbox as needed
- Help them with medical appointments and counseling appointments
- Encourage socialization by inviting them to coffee or setting up a time for them to meet up with a friend each week
- Set up nutritional support, whether that is dropping off favorite meals a few times per week or scheduling Meals on Wheels deliveries
- Check-in throughout the day with a quick phone call or text to see how they are feeling
- Encourage time in nature, such as reading a book on the patio or taking a stroll around the block
Home care services, such as companion or personal care services with CaringGivers, is another wonderful way to support your loved one as they live with depression. Our team can provide a friendly face and relationship, as well as assistance with personal care and household tasks, which can sometimes go by the wayside during bouts of depression. We are also another set of eyes in the home and can provide feedback to family members and medical professionals about how the person is really doing at home.
Remember, depression is not a normal sign of aging. It is a condition that is treatable and once diagnosed, the person can receive the support they need to begin feeling like themselves again. Thank you for advocating for your loved one so they can receive the mental health support they deserve.