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Guide to Helping an Elderly Parent with Depression

Knowing how to assist an elderly parent with depression can be intimidating. Learn about depression in the elderly, and what you can do to help, here.

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How to Help an Elderly Parent with Depression: Recognizing the Symptoms of Depression in Seniors and Tips for Support

Maybe you’ve noticed that your mom has lost significant weight.

When you speak to your dad, does he seem unusually short?

Watching a loved one suffer from depression is difficult. Despite popular belief, depression is not a normal part of aging, even after experiencing periods of sadness. And unfortunately, depression is often under-diagnosed in older adults.

Once you learn to identify the signs of depression, it makes getting treatment easier.

In this article, you will learn: 

  • To recognize signs of depressions
  • Tips for dealing with depression
  • And much more

Depression in the Elderly: What It Is and Isn’t

If a person is dealing with sadness or grief, that does not automatically mean they’re facing depression. While sadness and grief should be dealt with as necessary, they are not considered medical conditions. 

However, depression is a treatable medical condition that negatively impacts mental health.

In contrast to sadness, depression doesn’t go away on its own. 

If you know an older adult who might be struggling with depression, you shouldn’t assume that their feelings are temporary or simply a part of aging. Instead, depression is an unexpected health condition requiring professional care.

Consider these statistics: 

  • About 1%-5% of the general United States elderly population suffer from depression.
  • It is possible for common late-life chronic illnesses to trigger depression. 
  • In the first month after the death of their spouse, one-third of widows/widowers meet criteria for depression, and half of them remain clinically depressed one year later.

Why Might Your Elderly Parent Become Depressed?

Several factors contribute to depression in the elderly. Some of these include: 

  • Genetic risk factors — Individuals with a family history of depression are more likely to suffer from depression themselves.
  • Role change or loss — Traditionally, men and women play different roles in the family. In the elderly, role reversal and loss of this role can significantly impact their mental health.
  • Grief — In addition to grieving and realizing their mortality, many older adults feel lonely due to losses.
  • Relationship difficulties — The elderly may often worry about their own family, such as the well-being of their children.
  • Health conditions — Medical conditions can directly contribute to depression.

6 Signs Your Elderly Parent May Be Struggling With Depression

There are 6 common signs you should look for if you are worried your elderly loved one is suffering from depression.

#1: Loss of Interest in Activities They Used to Enjoy

Older adults with depression may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, such as: 

  • Sports
  • Music
  • Socializing; or
  • Sexual activity

In addition, they may decline invitations to participate in activities or to spend time with others.

#2: Isolation

An active and engaged senior does not usually withdraw from friends or family for an extended period unless something else affects them, such as depression.

#3: Difficulty Sleeping, or Sleeping More than Normal

Depression can make it difficult for older adults to get up in the morning whether from exhaustion or simply feeling rundown. They might also have a hard time falling asleep at night even if they are tired. 

In addition, they may lack the motivation to tackle everyday tasks, like going to the store or cooking meals. 

Because of their poor sleep habits and loss of motivation, they sometimes spend most of their days sleeping or resting at home.

#4: Changes in Eating Habits

Sometimes a change in eating habits can be a sign of depression. One study found that both increases and decreases in appetite could be variable markers for depressive disorder.

#5: Fluctuating Moods

Mood swings are not uncommon for people with depression. Because of many other symptoms of depression, like lack of sleep or loss of appetite, moods can vastly fluctuate. You may notice your elderly loved one move from extreme sadness to irritable and then quickly become angry often.

#6: Decreased Energy

Feeling tired and exhausted are common symptoms of depression.

Despite having a good night’s sleep, depression-related fatigue can cause an elderly adult to feel exhausted during the day. 

Everyday tasks aren’t as simple as they used to be—washing and dressing in the morning can seem overwhelming and take twice as long as usual.

7 Tips for How to Help a Elderly Parent with Depression

Wondering how to assist an elderly parent with depression? Here are 7 tips to help.

#1: Don’t Talk Down to Them

Sometimes helping your parents means explaining what is best when they don’t quite understand. You must, however, keep in mind that your approach matters in these situations.

Although they sometimes act like it, your parents aren’t children. Resentment and anger can result from talking down to them or making them feel like they have no voice in their life’s decisions.

Communicate with your loved ones with empathy. Listen to their concerns and be patient as you guide them through life decisions. It’s important to them that they feel like the people you’ve known them to be for all their lives.

Respecting them can do wonders for their mental health, as well as for yours

#2: Find Ways to Reduce Loneliness and Isolation

Staying active and connecting with others is important. When people engage in meaningful, productive activities they enjoy with others, they feel a sense of purpose and live longer.

Volunteering, for example, can make you feel less lonely and provide a sense of purpose and mission in life, which is linked with better health. 

Activities like these can: 

  • Boost your mood
  • Improve your well-being; and
  • Improve your cognitive abilities 

#3: Promote Healthy Eating Habits

Eating right is essential for all aspects of our health, but eating right for mental health is very important. 

The food and drink you consume can directly impact how you feel. Continually feeding your body unhealthy fuel will prevent it from functioning correctly. This is why it is so important to encourage healthy eating in your loved ones. 

Encourage your loved one to eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals that the body needs to increase their mood and overall health. Some examples of this include: 

  • Including every food group in your diet 
  • Keeping sugar, saturated fats, and sodium to a minimum
  • Adding seafood, dairy, fortified soy, beans, peas, and lentils to meals as good protein sources
  • Enhancing snacks and meals can be enhanced with fruits and vegetables
  • Talking to a doctor about taking a B12 supplement, or eating foods fortified with vitamin B12
  • Drinking plenty of water for hydration

#4: Help Them Stay Physically Active

Exercise is a highly effective way to combat depression. It has been found to increase the body’s natural antidepressants and to be as effective as medication in combating depression.

You might think it’s not easy to keep seniors active, but there are plenty of activities they might enjoy. Some of these include: 

  1. Water aerobics
  2. Chair yoga
  3. Resistance band workouts
  4. Pilates
  5. Walking

#5: Encourage Counseling

Mental health professionals such as psychologists and licensed professional counselors can provide counseling to help people suffering from depression.  

With counseling, depression can be treated by: 

  • Recognizing the factors contributing to depression and improving them
  • Changing patterns of negative or distorted thinking; or 
  • Learning new coping mechanisms

#6: Seek Medical Help

If an elderly loved one displays signs of depression, you should seek medical help immediately. Encourage them to seek medical advice and offer to accompany them to the appointment.

As soon as a medical diagnosis has been determined, help them follow the recommended treatment plan. In addition to medication, behavior modification may be suggested to help with the symptoms.

#7: Consider Senior Living

A loved one who suffers from depression might benefit from senior living, especially if they live alone. In a senior living community, seniors will find a robust social environment and support network. 

An active social life could improve …

  • Physical
  • Mental; and
  • Emotional health

… which is especially important for older adults suffering from loneliness and depression.

Senior living also helps people cope with depression by giving them a sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Are you interested in senior living for your loved one? At Senior Services of America, our communities provide various desirable senior living options to accommodate many lifestyles. 

These options allow residents to pursue personal interests and maximize their independence during retirement.

As a Caregiver, Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Caregiving is not easy for anyone, whether you are the caregiver or the recipient. Everyone must make sacrifices and adjustments. 

However, as a caregiver, it is crucial to take care of yourself.  

As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” This means you must take care of yourself before taking care of anyone else.

The following tips can help:

  1. Have self-compassion. It is important to be kind to yourself to take care of yourself.
  2. Practice breath awareness. Breathing exercises have been documented to have many benefits, including:
    1. Reversing the stress response
    2. Reducing stress reactions; and
    3. Reducing anxiety
  3. Try a mind-body practice such as yoga or tai chi. A mind-body practice promotes physical health and increases awareness and connection between mind and body.
  4. Maintain adequate sleep and nutrition. To help prevent caregiver burnout, sleep and nutrition are essential.
  5. Join a caregiver support group. You can exchange stories and ideas with other caregivers, which will relieve your sense of isolation.

Senior Services of America: Senior Living Communities That Promote an Independent and Engaging Lifestyle

Are you overwhelmed by caring for your elderly loved ones? Are you wondering how to help an elderly parent with depression? 

Whether you wish you had a little more time in the day to relax, or you fear leaving your aging family members alone, Senior Services of America communities can help.

Our residents are our top priority at Senior Services of America communities. You can choose from a variety of care options in our communities, including:

  • Independent living
  • Assisted living
  • Memory care
  • Respite care

Our service and care plans are tailored to the individual needs of each resident. Every day, our nurses, caregivers, and team members strive to provide the best customer service possible.

Would you like to learn more? Find your nearest community today to speak to an advisor.