It may come as a surprise to learn that older people are especially prone to depression. There are several reasons for this, including loss of loved ones, loss of independence and loss of health. They are also affected neurologically by a natural decrease in neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine that help even their moods, and by the side effects of medicines.
If you have an elderly loved one, here are some signs to watch for and suggestions on how to manage depression.
Signs of depression among older people
While young people who are depressed may cry or be vocal about their feelings, older people tend to be more stoic even to the point of denying that they feel sad or depressed. This is especially true for older men, who have the highest suicide rate in the nation. Strangely, suicide often occurs within a day, week or month of a doctor’s visit—especially one that reveals a challenging diagnosis. This is a key time to tune in and watch for signs of depression, including mood swings, anger outbursts, irritability and isolation. Sometimes the easiest way to notice is a change in sleeping or eating habits.
Grief is normal for at least a year after the death of a significant other, but grief that doesn’t seem to lessen over time may be a sign that your loved one needs help. Remember, older people often experience loss on several levels—physical health, independence, and with retirement a loss of purpose—adding to their risk of depression.
How you can help
Get an evaluation
Talk therapy has proven less effective for older people, while medicines, such as antidepressants and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), are often more effective in those over age 70. If you suspect your loved one is depressed, set up an appointment with his or her doctor or a mental health professional for an evaluation
Create opportunities for exercise
Exercise is a great way to lift spirits and help older people regain confidence and strength. Check out exercise classes and fitness classes for older adults in your community – there are lots of options.
It’s commonplace for older people to take several medicines for various reasons. How all these medicines react is not completely known. Certain medicines may cause depression, including steroids, beta-blockers and benzodiazepines. Rule out side effects of medicines or medicine interactions and advocate with his or her doctor as needed.
Instill a sense of purpose
Feelings of loss need to be countered with opportunities of accomplishment and genuine appreciation. If your grandmother was a realtor, ask for suggestions on improving your home. If your father was a lawyer, ask his opinion on current cases in the news. Encourage a new hobby that relates to their skills. Let them be of service to you and others.
The good news is that elderly people tend to respond better to treatment, once depression is identified. Yet untreated depression increases the chance for illness and a move to a nursing home. With your support, they can manage their depression and enjoy their later years.