Talking To Your Aging Loved One About Depression

When the tables are turned from your Mom and Dad parenting you to the time when you are becoming more responsible for their care, you need to be aware of the sometimes subtle changes in their moods or health.  

Some signs such as forgetfulness, not eating, not leaving the house or letting personal hygiene slide may be readily visible. Signs of depression, though, which could be brought about by several factors may not be so easily recognizable. If you are a caregiver that has almost daily contact with aging relatives you will likely notice changes in behavior. If you don’t live close by and have to rely on telephone calls, webcam chats or occasional visits you may miss the signs. Consider if you’ve been calling Mom or Dad and inviting them over or offering to visit and they put you off or make excuses to avoid you, it could be a signal of a deeper issue. If your parents are making excuses to not see the grandchildren or participate in other family activities and if they mention they’re not sleeping well it mean they’re clinically depressed.  

Depression is more than a bout of “feeling sad” and studies have shown that close to 20% of the population aged 65 and older may suffer from depression. In seniors that are housebound or who live alone those figures soar to close to 50%. Another statistic that is startling is that while the elderly may be 13% of the population in the United States, they account for close to 20% of the nation’s suicide rate: the highest rates are in men that are 80-years-old or older. 

In spite of these statistics, depression is one of those conditions that is not readily picked up on and in many cases the symptoms are attributed to other health issues entirely. Even seniors ignore their feelings and may think they’re feeling sad because they’re aging, are alone or simply do not feel well. Depression, doctors explain, is not a typical symptom of aging.

If you’re a caregiver or spouse what are the signs you should be looking for in your loved one? Here are a few symptoms that could signal depression:

  • Feelings of anxiety that don’t abate
  • Feeling sad for no specific reason
  • Sleeping too much
  • Sleeping too little or waking up frequently during the night
  • Losing interest in activities you’d once enjoyed – cooking, walking, playing cards with friends, spending time with grandchildren, etc.
  • Loss of energy
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions or recalling life events.
  • Feeling you’re a burden to your family
  • Feelings of hopelessness or guilt

If you feel any of these feelings, talk with your family or your physician and ask for help.

If you’re a caregiver and you notice any of these signs, talk with your Mom or Dad and ask if there is anything bothering them or if there’s anything they’d like to talk about. Asking, “are you depressed” will not open the door to conversation. If your loved one talks about “not feeling hungry” or “I can’t sleep” or “I don’t feel like going out any more” or “I’m just not feeling well” these could be symptoms of depression. Reassure him or her that what they’re feeling may warrant a trip to the doctor. Let him know (even if they don’t say anything) that you do not find caring for him a burden and in fact you enjoy the time you have together. Offer to go to the doctor’s with her and ask the doctor for a medical assessment to rule out any other physical cause.

Treatments for depression vary from medications to behavioral therapies. It is a problem to be taken seriously and addressed in a calm, loving manner.

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