Do you have an elderly loved one, such as your mother or father, who's suffering from depression? Depression can occur at any age. In late life, physical and social changes can increase the likelihood of a depressive illness.
Symptoms of late-life depression are much like the symptoms that younger people experience. Depression itself can be mild, moderate or severe, and your loved one may have a few or many of its symptoms. Depression symptoms can include:
- Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being slowed down
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Restlessness, irritability
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed
- Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain, which do not respond to routine treatment
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Depression is not the same as a bad mood or the passing feelings of being "blue". Symptoms can persist for weeks, months, or even years. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better.
In many ways, your loved one is dealing with a sense of loss - they're grieving for the life they used to have. Perhaps they're in assisted living and missing their home. Perhaps many friends or spouses have already passed on. These types of changes are things you really can't change. So, what CAN you do to help?
Up to 80 percent of older adults with a depressive disorder can improve when they receive appropriate treatment. The first step is a physical examination by a physician to rule out other causes for a person's symptoms. Next, the physician should conduct a diagnostic evaluation for depression or refer the person to a mental health professional for this evaluation. Treatment usually involves medication or counseling. Sometimes a combination of medication and counseling provide the greatest relief. It usually takes a number of weeks for the full effects of treatment to be felt. Once the person is feeling better, treatment may need to be continued for several months or, in some cases, indefinitely to prevent relapse.
In addition to medical treatment, here are some things you can do to help your loved one deal with their depression:
- Spend as much time with them as you can. Visiting is so important!
- If possible, involve them in their health care and life decisions.
- Encourage him or her to get involved in a familiar, liked activity.
- Do things with him or her, such as shopping, going out to eat, watching TV, crafts, or looking at old photos.
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