By Jesse Waugh
It is normal to experience grief when facing major life changes.
However, for older adults, drastic events can lead to extreme sadness and, ultimately, clinical depression.
Approximately 15% of the elderly suffer from this condition.
If left untreated, depression can last for months and take a toll on the immune system, making the afflicted person mentally and physically weaker.
A geriatric psychiatrist can tell if a person is depressed or experiencing bouts of loneliness and helplessness.
What are the warning signs of clinical depression?
If you think an elderly friend or relative suffers from depression, look for warning signs. There are several health indicators that suggest persistent feelings of sadness.
Withdrawal from society – It is common for elders who experience depression to avoid social situations, even with close friends and relatives.
Loss of self-regard – Putting off personal grooming and proper hygiene may suggest a feeling of detachment and could be a sign of the early stages of depression.
Increased irritability – Sudden drastic changes in an older adult’s mood may suggest the outset of depression.
Amplified physical pain – Contrary to popular belief, depression affects both the mind and the body. Since it weakens the immune system, it can increase physical pain.
Older adults who have suffered from a serious disease or are recovering from a surgery may also be susceptible to depression.
Studies show that around 15% of older patients experience episodes of sadness after they are discharged from the hospital.
What can you do to help?
Keep in mind that depression is an illness. It is much more serious and damaging than grief or sadness. If you suspect that someone suffers from it, keep an eye out for the symptoms or warning signs mentioned above.
Do not attempt to control their lives. If you do things for them that they can do by themselves, you might strengthen their perception that they are helpless or incapable. In fact, many aged care homes do their best to make their guests feel at home and in control of every important aspect of their lives.
Talk to them. This is a good way to alleviate depressive episodes. Just be indirect when you open up the topic of depression. Instead of saying it outright, ask them how they feel. Even if they tell you that they’re fine, they may unknowingly drop hints about how they truly feel.
Basically, you must understand the situation they’re in, and do your best to help them cope with the bouts of extreme sadness. Perhaps one of the most helpful things you can do is keep them company. Loneliness may also be connected to Alzheimer’s, so be there for them when they need you.
Many older adults have successfully recovered from depression without intervention. However, it is best for friends and family of the afflicted person to look into professional help and build a support network. Compassion, empathy and sensitivity can go a long way in the treatment of elderly depression.