Depression can affect anyone at any age, at any time during a lifetime. Older adults, however, may be more susceptible to depression and less likely to reach out for support. Their mental state is often unrecognized because people assume feeling down is a normal part of aging. Individuals close to the adult such as family members, primary caregivers, and physicians are in a good position to recognize she or he is experiencing symptoms of depression and can make a difference with an understanding of depression causes, signs, and ways to give support.
Causes of Depression:
Depression can be caused by many factors. Health issues in older adults and the effect they have on their daily life can play a large part. With health issues come financial pressures, anxiety and the fear of worsening overall health causing greater dependence and helplessness. When a senior loses their mobility or ability to engage in favorite activities, they can feel isolated. This isolation often leads to depression.
As we age family members and friends pass away. Normal grief can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as an impending sense of their own mortality. If grief is prolonged, it can become an episode of depression.
Finally, adults who reach retirement unprepared can lose their sense of purpose which can also lead to depression. Every person needs to feel they have purpose and value in life. Dan Buettner, the author of Blue Zones, traveled the globe to uncover the best strategies for living a long, full life. Two of the most important factors he discovered among fulfilled centenarians are a sense of purpose and belonging.
Signs of Depression:
There are several signs of depression to be on the lookout for:
- Weight loss and / or loss of appetite
- Weight gain – overeating to comfort themselves
- Loss of interest in activities
- Sleeping during the day
- Not engaging in favorite activities / self-isolation
- A more negative than normal outlook on life
- Use of drugs and / or alcohol or a change in the amount of drugs or alcohol consumed
Ironically, sadness is not always a sign of depression. Many older individuals will say they do not feel at all sad. Instead, their symptoms may be manifested through the above signs or a general lack of motivation, energy, and unusual aches and pains.
How to Provide Depression Support:
First, it is important to ensure that the older adult receives a complete physical examination. These symptoms may also be caused by other factors such as medical conditions and medications; regardless of the cause, a thorough examination to determine the cause is critical to the person who is experiencing an episode of depression.
Once a physical has been done, a review of medications has taken place, and a clean bill of health received, your primary care doctor can refer the older adult to a mental health specialist in geriatric mental health issues. They will have a better understanding of the causes of depression and appropriate treatments for older adults.
Sometimes, the most straight-forward help is the best. Simply talking to the older adult and providing them with a different outlook on their concerns and issues can help. Be proactive and provide opportunities for them to engage with other family members, support groups, and activities outside the home if possible.
Awareness of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Another type of depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. Very often older adults can show signs of this type of depression during the winter months. For some people, decreased sunlight can reduce the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin helps to regulate a person’s mood. When it is decreased, depression can occur. Coupled with the loss of serotonin, older adults tend to be even more isolated during the winter months which can lead to less energy and a lack of desire to participate in activities.
Depression isn’t just about being sad (or SAD). It can have physical and mental consequences that can affect the older person’s overall health and well-being. Being on the lookout for signs of depression and encouraging loved ones to seek depression support and help when necessary can go a long way to keeping the older adult happy and healthy.
How have you helped your loved deal with their depression? Share your tips with us in the comments below.
For more information, please review our Depression Resources.