Elderly Depression - Discussion and Recovery

Elderly depression can be quite common as ageing presents its own set of challenges - many elderly people have to face some very difficult situations where certain health conditions could be taking a toll on the person on the one hand and, on the other, failing health or death of a spouse could contribute heavily to depression in the elderly.

Sometimes, people who have led a fairly independent life might be required to depend on another because of disabilities and coming to terms with these changes and challenges can be heart wrenching for the elderly. In such cases, it is only natural one begins to feel terribly lonely and in the absence of a support system in terms of spouse, family, and friends, elderly depression sets in during old age.

While it is common for older people to suffer from elderly depression, very few actually seek professional help on time. In the absence of a spouse and children, who are busy with their own lives, everyone fails to pay attention to the subtle signs and symptoms of depression. The general mindset is to attribute these signs and symptoms of elderly depression as part of growing old.

In some cases, however, family members and physicians concentrate more on the physical ailments and complaints rather than look into the emotional side of the problem. Untreated depression can result in serious consequences for the elderly and the family because this can lead to drug abuse or suicide.

When treatment is available, depression is completely curable; family and friends should thus pay a little more attention to the older folks and ensure that they get professional help in time.

Some of the causes which contribute to elderly depression are:

  • Death of a spouse, close friends, a child, or grandchildren often make it extremely difficult for elderly people to come to terms with, resulting in feelings of isolation and loneliness, leading to depression.

  • Deteriorating physical health and faculties is another reason for elderly depression, mainly because they become terribly conscious of their physical state and find it hard to come to terms with it. Someone who starts losing his or her eyesight or hearing cannot enjoy life like he or she used to in the past, and their inability to drive around makes it even more difficult for them to live a full life. This increases their sense of hopelessness and they ultimately see no purpose in life. All these contribute to their slipping into depression.

  • Prescribed medications used in treating other conditions might also contribute or become responsible for depression in some cases. Therefore, it is important to observe and record all the activities, medication prescribed, and signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly before commencing treatment.

  • Disability, failing memory, and physical appearance also work as factors that trigger elderly depression. People who have been socially active and have been popular for a long time cannot handle the above setbacks and tend to feel embarrassed and fear humiliation. They therefore start isolating themselves and, in such a state, several negative thoughts and fears occupy their minds, making them depressed.

  • Fear of financial insecurity, inability to sustain medical bills and expenses, lack of help and support from children, too, become a cause of concern for many and ultimately they slip into depression.

The above are some of the main factors which contribute to depression in the elderly, but with a little love and support as well as the right intervention, they can overcome the condition, just like anyone else suffering from depression.

Various signs and symptoms exhibited by older folks suffering from elderly depression are:

  • Depleting energy levels and feeling tired and fatigued constantly is a sign of depression in the elderly. While they generally tend to complain about low physical energy levels, the truth in many cases is that they are actually feeling down, sad, and depressed.

  • Variation in sleep patterns and eating habits is another sign to watch out for, especially when they complain about difficulty falling asleep at night, sleep during the daytime, and complain about lack of appetite. This is a big sign which one must start observing and, if it continues for over two weeks, it is time to seek professional help.

  • Talking about death or expressing lack of interest in living and life in general are also signs of depression in the elderly. The overall aura of a person changes from positive to the negative and the tendency is to remain unhappy and sad no matter what the circumstances are. These are huge indications of underlying depression and a cry for help.

  • Withdrawal from all social activities, especially some which they enjoyed earlier, too, is a serious sign of elderly depression. People generally do not stop doing what they have enjoyed over a lifetime. Therefore, such signs should not be ignored but observed carefully and, in the presence of other signs and symptoms, considered as a case of depression.

These are some of the signs and symptoms which suggest depression in the elderly. Once diagnosed and confirmed, all attempts should be made to ensure that they get the required treatment, complete the treatment modalities in a timely manner, and follow-up with the therapist to completely recover from depression.

Like in any other case of depression, diagnosis and treatment in the elderly includes observation, assessment, inference followed by various treatment modalities. The typical treatment options include counseling, therapy, and pharmacological drugs.

Generally speaking, we are of the view that the use of drugs for elderly depression, or for that matter any type of depression, should only be a last resort.

Some additional methods of fighting elderly depression include:

  • Outdoor activities: The natural tendency of elderly people is to sit at home and go out only if there is a necessity, which is all right but it is also equally important to go out, meet other people, and generally enjoy some fresh air and sunlight. This will help them unwind, de-stress and forget about any potential tension building up. A short walk in the park everyday, visiting an old friend, cultivating a new hobby, are activities that will engage the mind and ward off depression. They are good for physical health, too.

  • Learning a new skill: A computer with internet connection, creating a email group of old friends, exchanging jokes and interesting stories are all activities which will help one stay connected with the external world and encourage one to think creatively. Solving crossword puzzles, Sudoku puzzles, etc, will also stimulate the mind and make good use of time, leaving very little time to worry and get depressed.

  • Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation: Investing time in a good exercise program which is not too strenuous but takes care of some cardiovascular exercise, such as a little bit of Yoga, Tai Chi or meditation, helps relax the mind and body, helps one cope with the challenges of old age, as well as makes one peaceful.

These are some activities that the elderly should be encouraged to take up to beat stress, worry, tension, and elderly depression.

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