As we age, our bodies change and we may be more susceptible to chronic health conditions. One of those conditions is depression. The likelihood of your aging loved one suffering from depression depends on a variety of factors, such as new or worsening health problems, previous bouts of mental illness, as well as how connected they are to their communities, friends, and family.
Depression affects people of any age, but as we get older, it can become more likely. The aging process is difficult for everyone and becomes especially difficult when your loved one may not be able to do as much as they used to be able to do, debilitating medical conditions take hold, or they begin to lose lifelong friends from age. It’s a transitional time in a person’s life.
What is depression?
Depression is a chronic mental illness that not only affects your loved one’s mental and emotional health but can affect their physical health as well in ways that you may not have thought of. There are links between depression and Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as decreased lifespan, so if your loved one is experiencing this condition, it’s crucial to get them help as soon as possible and be there for them while they are experiencing these large-scale changes due to age.
What causes depression?
Some people are predisposed to depression due to genetics and the occurrence of this and other mental illnesses in their family. Sometimes, depression is circumstantial or is brought on by the loss of something, such as health, a loved one, a treasured friend, or something else. Other risk factors include social isolation and loneliness, sleep problems, stress, lack of or inability to engage in physical activity or exercise, as well as functional limitations that make engaging with others or activities difficult.
Symptoms of chronic depression:
• Persistent sadness, anxiety, or apathetic mood
• Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness
• Irritability, restlessness, or trouble sleeping
• Low energy, lethargy, increased fatigue
• Changes in appetite; increased or decreased
• Loss of interest in activities that your loved one once enjoyed
• Suicidal ideation or self-harm
Someone who has depression may exhibit some or all of these symptoms. This list is not conclusive, as different people react differently to depression, depending on their personalities or cultural affiliations.
What can I do?
Depression is a serious medical condition, but fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your loved one through this time. If at any point the responsibility of caring for your aging loved one feels overwhelming, it’s okay to reach out for extra help in supporting them or to take a break yourself. Below are some ways to help your loved one experiencing depression:
• Encourage them to get out of the house; find an activity they enjoy and take them to it.
• Encourage social support and forming new friendships.
• Help them get to scheduled appointments for their depression, such as therapy or getting them to their doctor for medication.
• Engage them in physical activity, such as a walk, gardening, or just getting outside for a bit.
• If they are able, encourage them to seek therapy, or set it up for them if they consent. Many types of therapy are available to help those who suffer from depression.
• Watch a light-hearted movie or listen to music with them.
• Ensure they are eating a healthy diet. Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to new or worsening depression.
• Talk to their doctor if you’re concerned they may harm themselves or others.
To learn more about depression and how it affects your aging loved one, click here.