Recognizing Depression in Elderly Adults
Many people think that depression is an inevitable part of the aging process. However, depression is a distinct clinical issue in elder care and occurs for a variety of reasons. Contributing factors include loss of independence, declining health, conflict with family members over health care decisions, and residence changes. While these circumstances understandably can produce emotional swings, clinical depression is characterized by a pervasive sense of hopelessness, loss of motivation, and even thoughts of suicide.
Depression can accompany medical regressions common to later life such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. Depression can also be a response to loss of loved ones, which can occur with some frequency as friend’s age together. Family history of depression also contributes to its development.
With so many issues affecting elderly adults, qualified home caregivers need to be able to recognize the signs of depression. The common signs to watch for include:
- confusion or difficulty making simple decisions
- frequent irritability or outbursts of anger
- statements that life no longer holds hope or purpose
- changes in sleeping or eating habits (with accompanied weight loss or gain)
- decline in personal care, such as bathing and grooming
- changes in social habits, such as isolating from previously enjoyed activities
- verbalizing a wish to die or to take one’s life.
If your aging loved one exhibits any of the above signs, it is important to discuss the possibility of depression with his/her primary care provider. A mental health consultation may be helpful as antidepressant medication often proves effective in alleviating symptoms. Counseling is also recommended, as it is beneficial for many elderly people to talk about their feelings and understand that they are not alone. Social connections through home care services can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness. In addition, simple steps such as adequate sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise are beneficial to maintaining optimal emotional health.