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How to Tell if a Senior is Depressed

March 1, 2012
Depressed, senior african american man holding hand near face

Depression is the most common type of mental illness found in seniors. If you’re caring for or helping out a senior, it’s important to understand what depression is, what the signs are and what you can do to help. Depression is not a normal part of growing old and it is treatable.

Depression in seniors is often linked to:

  • The loss of a spouse, friend, or other close loved one
  • Chronic health problems
  • Loneliness or isolation
  • Loss of mobility
  • Feeling purposeless or no longer needed

Depression is different than grief or being in a sad mood. When someone is grieving (over a spouse, friend, family member, etc.) they are sad, but they can still find some small joy in everyday things. A person who is depressed cannot. As well, suffering from depression is not just feeling sad for the day, but over an extended period of time. Here are some warning signs to look out for if you think your loved one might be depressed:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Feeling tired or fatigued
  • No longer finding pleasure in activities they used to enjoy
  • Not wanting to spend time with others
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Having difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Being fixated on death
  • Feeling unmotivated or having a lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Crying excessively
  • Difficulty concentrating

If your loved one has four or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks there is a chance they are suffering from depression. It can often go unnoticed, or your loved one might not want to discuss how they’re feeling with you. Sadly, for many, depression is stigmatized and they may not want to admit that they are depressed because they fear how others will react or they think they should be able to ‘fix’ the problem themselves. Be open and understanding and know that depression is a mental illness. A person who is depressed cannot simply change the way they’re feeling or “snap out of it.”

Here are some ways you can help your loved one if they have depression and how to prevent depression from reoccurring:

  • Encourage them to get help. Suggest they talk to their doctor or a therapist about their feelings.
  • Make sure they are taking medication properly. If your loved one has been prescribed medication for depression, make sure that they are taking it correctly and regularly.
  • Schedule regular activities. It’s easier for depression to take hold or reoccur if your loved one feels as though they have nothing to do or nothing to look forward to. Suggest they participate in activities you know they enjoyed in the past.
  • Be social. Try and get your loved one to engage in social activities. Feeling isolated or alone often fuels depression.
  • Eat well and exercise. A poor diet can make depression worse and exercise has been proven to boost your mood and release endorphins. You can plan and prepare healthy meals for your loved one and participate in a physical activity with them.
  • Let them know that they are needed. Often depression in the elderly is caused by feeling as though they aren’t needed anymore. Tell them how much you appreciate them, let them help you with things, encourage them to volunteer if they’re able. All of these things will help give them a sense of purpose.