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Depression in Older Adults

Depression can happen to anybody. However, what most people do not realize is that older adults are incredibly susceptible to depression. This is due to a variety of factors and often has to do with the isolation so commonly associated with the aging process in this country. Here, we want to discuss depression in older adults. Particularly, we want to examine the signs of depression in older adults as well as the causes. We will also look at whether there is a link between dementia and depression as well as how to help an elderly person who is suffering from depression.

Signs of Depression in Older Adults

It is crucial to understand the signs and symptoms of depression. While the signs and symptoms may not be the same for everybody, some of the red flags that friends and family members should be aware of include the following:

  • Feelings of sadness or despair
  • Unexplained or aggravated pains or aches
  • Loss of interest in socializing or usual hobbies
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • A lack of energy or motivation
  • Sudden weight loss or a loss of appetite
  • Disturbances in sleep
  • A loss of self-worth
  • Memory problems
  • Slowed movement or speech
  • Increased alcohol or drug usage
  • Personal care neglect (not taking meds, personal hygiene issues, skipping meals, etc.)
  • Thoughts about suicide or a fixation on death

Causes of Depression in Older Adults

There are various causes of depression that older adults and their friends and family members need to be aware of. This can include the following:

  • Health problems. If there are any illnesses or disabilities, chronic or severe pain, or if there is cognitive decline, this could all be a contributing factor to depression.
  • Lost sense of purpose. As a person ages, they could lose their sense of purpose. This could significantly contribute to depression.
  • Fear or anxiety. As a person ages, their fear of dying or fear about financial problems and health issues could increase and lead to depression.
  • Loneliness and isolation. Living alone, a dwindling social circle, and decreased mobility can all increase an elderly person’s isolation.
  • Recent bereavements. The death of family members, friends, and even pets can be a contributing factor to depression in older adults.
  • Abuse. Being physically, sexually, financially, or otherwise abused can trigger depression.

Dementia vs. Depression

It is important to point out that memory loss can be a sign of both depression or dementia, both of which are common in elderly adults. Both depression and dementia share similar symptoms, including memory loss, a lack of motivation, slowed speech and movements, and more.

The truth is that friends and family members should be concerned about any behavioral changes, whether or not the issues are occurring due to depression or dementia. The only way to determine the cause of cognitive decline is to seek assistance from a trained doctor as soon as possible. If the issues revolve around depression, then there are various treatments that can help a person bounce back. If the issues are caused by dementia, there are steps that doctors can take to improve a person’s quality of life. In many cases, the symptoms of dementia can be slowed to allow a person to have many more years of personal enjoyment.

How to Help an Elder with Depression

If an elderly person that you know is suffering from depression, it is important that you listen to them with patience and compassion. Often, it is enough for you to just be there and listen to their concerns. You will not necessarily “fix” an older adult’s depression, but you can let them know that you will help them get assistance if they want it.

You could invite your loved one out somewhere to help keep their mind occupied. You could also schedule regular social activities for them to be involved in. If you are able to do so, you can plan and prepare healthy meals, as a poor diet can make depression worse. You should encourage an elderly person suffering from depression to seek professional help, but do not push it. Many people do not respond well to demands in these situations. Finally, be aware of any possible signs of suicide. In these cases come on more serious interventions may be necessary.