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What Depression Feels Like for Seniors & How to Overcome It

Depressed elderly woman sitting on lounge chair at home

The later years of our lives come with a variety of new challenges. As our senses deteriorate, medical problems begin to mount and our loved ones pass with increased frequency, many people become vulnerable to depression. Experts estimate that as many as 20% of seniors experience depression — a number that only grows among adults in long term care facilities. And in spite of how common depression can be, as few as one in ten depressed seniors will receive treatment.

It’s easy to underestimate the effects of depression, but suffering from it can significantly lower your quality of life. It may sap your energy, deteriorate your ability to sleep, and weaken your appetite, taking a toll on your health that may be as severe as any terminal disease.  Thankfully, there’s a variety of accessible treatment options that seniors and their caregivers can pursue to help quell depression, and help your affected loved one restore their sense of wellbeing.

Depression and Sadness

Many people who suffer from depression report they feel as though they’re always living with a weight on their chest, sapping them of the will to do anything. However, this feeling isn’t ubiquitous in depressed individuals. One reason why depression is commonly missed in the elderly is because of the mistaken belief that you can’t be depressed if you’re not sad. Many people who are depressed do not report feelings of sadness at all. One of the most commonly reported symptoms of depression in the elderly is actually worsening physical pain.

There are also many social issues that block the treatment of depression in senior citizens. For example, many seniors grew up with a stigma around mental illness, and consequently may not even believe depression is a real illness. These individuals can be prone to rationalizing their emotions, and may mistake their depression for grieving.

Diagnosing Depression

If you don’t know whether or not your loved one has depression, it’s important to pursue a diagnosis with the help of a professional. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include losing interest in cherished activities, a depressed mood occurring daily, changes in weight, fatigue, indecisiveness, and fidgeting.

There are also a number of risk factors for depression in the elderly to be aware of, including health problems, isolation, the loss of loved ones, and a reduced sense of purpose that often accompanies retirement. Chronic medical conditions may also lead to depression, or worsen its symptoms. This can include stroke, cancer, diabetes, thyroid disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.

Overcoming Depression

Studies have shown that regular exercise is roughly as effective as taking medications in its ability to alleviate depression. Even a short walk around the block can improve your mood considerably. With the help of their doctor, even those who are sick and disabled can find some form of safe and healthy exercise that can help battle depression.

It’s also important to encourage your loved one to get involved in social activities. This can be difficult because depressed individuals usually don’t want to see anyone or do anything, but regular social interaction has also proven to be an effective means of wearing down depression. Consider encouraging your loved one to join a group, club, volunteering activity, or another type of social gathering.

Providing Help for Seniors

Untreated depression can cause you or lose body function faster, making your existing disabilities worse, and take a serious toll on your quality of life. Depression is not something that simply disappears with time.  If you believe your loved one may be suffering from depression, reassure them that depression isn’t a weakness of character; it’s a physical condition that can occur to anyone. If you help provide your emotional support, and encourage treatment, you may be able to help your loved one continue to lead a happy and fulfilling life for years to come.

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