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How to Identify Depression In Your Senior Loved Ones

a senior woman standing by the window looking sad or depressed

Depression affects upwards of 19 million adults in America each year. Out of that, more than two million adults over the age of 65 suffer from depression. October 7 hosts National Depression Screening Awareness Day, so now is a great time to learn how older adults can experience depression and what signs to be aware of. 

Misconceptions of Aging

A common misconception is that older adults automatically experience depression and cognitive problems as they age. However, this isn’t true at all. Experiencing symptoms of depression is not a normal part of aging. Unfortunately, because this is something that people think is normal, many older adults don’t seek treatment for themselves, or their families don’t notice when they start to slip into a depressive state.  

Causes of Depression

Someone can become depressed for many reasons simultaneously, or sometimes for no reason at all. It can be challenging to pinpoint an exact cause of depression, but there are risk factors that you should be aware of: 

  • Health problems such as a stroke, cancer, chronic pain, and cognitive decline 
  • Extended hospital stays 
  • Stress 
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Loss of functioning and inability to complete daily activities (personal care, grooming, toileting, etc.)
  • Isolation and loneliness 
  • Death of friends, families, or pets 
  • Medication side effects

Undoubtedly COVID-19 has also had a significant impact on the psychological well-being of older adults. Many people have had to isolate themselves from family, friends, and the rest of their community during the pandemic. Even though we are fortunate to live in a time where we can use video technology such as Zoom or Skype to connect with loved ones, it’s still been particularly challenging for older adults, many of whom don’t know how to use the available technologies.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression can look different from person to person. While one of the most common associations with depression is sadness, they don’t always come as a package deal. Symptoms of depression can mask themselves as behaviors that seem “normal” for some people or like a simple change in mood. However, just because an older adult (or anyone) doesn’t fit the typical profile for someone with depression doesn’t mean that they aren’t experiencing it. Some signs and symptoms of depression to be aware of are: 

  • Irritability or aggression
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Fatigue and low motivation 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Feelings of worthlessness or that you are a burden to others 
  • Unexplained pain (also called “somatic symptoms”) 
  • Less interest and motivation for personal care like getting dressed, hygiene, or other basic needs 
  • Thoughts of suicide (suicidal ideation) 
  • Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness 
  • Loss of interest in things you once found enjoyable 

If you feel like you or a loved one has been experiencing any of these symptoms, reaching out to someone is essential — even if it feels like no one would care or want to listen. This is a familiar feeling for many people with depression, especially if they have been experiencing it for a long time. Talk with someone you trust, whether they are a loved one or medical professional.

Depression in Alzheimer’s

Depression in Alzheimer’s is very common, especially in the early and middle stages. It’s important to note that it may look different than it would with someone who doesn’t have Alzheimer’s;

  • The severity of their symptoms may be less prevalent
  • Symptoms may come and go 
  • Someone affected by Alzheimer’s is unlikely to talk about self-harm or suicide

If you feel that someone you know is experiencing depression, it is vital to share this with their caregiver and medical professionals as soon as possible. Identifying depression in someone with memory issues is different. There is less emphasis on their verbal expressions and more on their desire to isolate themselves and their level of irritability. Once a depression diagnosis has been identified, a treatment plan will be created that may include counseling, prescription drugs, and a reconnection to the things they once loved (family, friends, an activity, etc.), or a combination of all.

Depression Screening Tools

Screening for depression is also an essential part of regular preventative healthcare. We have found a great online depression screening tool that you or the loved one you are concerned about can take. It takes less than a minute to complete, and the results are instant. Please keep in mind that the best approach to identify depression is to seek medical treatment. This tool is not intended to replace that. If you complete the online screening and discover that you may need medical treatment, we strongly recommend that you contact a medical professional. To identify depression in older adults, a standard screening tool that professionals often use is the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). This is a great way to bring up symptoms of depression to your doctor, especially if they are trained in administering this scale. 

What You Can Do On October 7th, National Depression Screening Day

Encourage those around you to look for signs of depression in their loved ones, especially seniors. Removing the stigma around depression can help alleviate hesitance around screening for depression. We encourage you to share this information or other information regarding depression with as many people as possible; depression doesn’t just affect an individual; it affects families, friends, and communities. The more people are aware, the easier it will be to manage. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about depression, whether it’s for yourself or your senior loved one. We are all in this together.

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