Concluding the discussion on senior depression from the last three weeks in Senior Showcase, the final tip focuses on knowing when to seek professional help. A few other tips are offered for helping a depressed elderly loved one.
Know when to seek professional help
Depression treatment is just as effective for older adults as it is for younger people. However, since depression in the elderly is often triggered or compounded by a difficult life situation or challenge, any treatment plan should address that issue. If loneliness is at the root of your depression, for example, medication alone is not going to cure the problem. Also, any medical issues complicating the depression must be addressed.
Antidepressant risk factors
Older adults are more sensitive to drug side effects and vulnerable to interactions with other medicines they’re taking. Studies have also found that SSRIs, such as Prozac, can cause rapid bone loss and a higher risk for fractures and falls. Because of these safety concerns, elderly adults on antidepressants should be carefully monitored.
In many cases, therapy and/or healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, can be as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression, without the dangerous side effects.
Counseling and therapy
Therapy works well on depression because it addresses the underlying causes of the depression, rather than just the symptoms.
Supportive counseling includes religious and peer counseling. It can ease loneliness and the hopelessness of depression, and help you find new meaning and purpose.
Therapy helps you work through stressful life changes, heal from losses and process difficult emotions. It can also help you change negative thinking patterns and develop better coping skills.
Support groups for depression, illness or bereavement connect you with others who are going through the same challenges. They are a safe place to share experiences, advice and encouragement.
How to help an older adult with depression
The very nature of depression interferes with a person's ability to seek help, draining energy and self-esteem. For depressed seniors, raised in a time when mental illness was highly stigmatized and misunderstood, it can be even more difficult — especially if they don’t believe depression is a real illness, are too proud or ashamed to ask for assistance, or fear becoming a burden to their families.
If an elderly person you care about is depressed, you can make a difference by offering emotional support. Listen to your loved one with patience and compassion. You don’t need to try to “fix” someone’s depression; just being there to listen is enough. Don’t criticize feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. You can also help by seeing that your loved one gets an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Help your loved one find a good doctor, accompany them to appointments and offer moral support.
Invite your loved one out. Depression is less likely when people’s bodies and minds remain active. Suggest activities to do together that your loved one used to enjoy: walks, an art class, a trip to the movies — anything that provides mental or physical stimulation.
Schedule regular social activities. Group outings, visits from friends and family members, or trips to the local senior or community center can help combat isolation and loneliness. Be gently insistent if your plans are refused: Depressed people often feel better when they’re around others.
Plan and prepare healthy meals. A poor diet can make depression worse, so make sure your loved one is eating right, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and some protein at every meal.
Encourage the person to follow through with treatment. Depression usually recurs when treatment is stopped too soon, so help your loved one keep up with his or her treatment plan. If it isn’t helping, look into other medications and therapies.
Make sure all medications are taken as instructed. Remind the person to obey doctor's orders about the use of alcohol while on medication. Help them remember when to take their dose.
Watch for suicide warning signs. Seek immediate professional help if you suspect that your loved one is thinking about suicide.
Rhonda Everett is the bookkeeper for the Senior Center of Finney County.