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From signs and symptoms to causes and treatments, senior health care providers can provide better care when they know what to look for and expect.

Mental health is a topic that has benefited from a recent increase in awareness and reduction of the associated stigma, among people of all ages. We, as a society, are getting better at recognizing and addressing the symptoms of various mental health conditions, but sometimes even today, depression in seniors can still go unnoticed.

Health Canada indicates that 5% to 10% of seniors will experience a depressive disorder that is serious enough to require treatment. Depression in seniors is even more common among those who live in institutions like nursing homes, where instances of seniors suffering from depression rises to between 30% and 40%. That same study shows that 90% of seniors will not seek treatment or help for their depression even when it is diagnosed, and more still will remain undiagnosed or their symptoms simply ignored.

For caregivers who interact with seniors every day, it’s important to watch for red-flags and to stay vigilant to ensure a loved one isn’t suffering alone or unnecessarily. Here are five important things that every caregiver should know about spotting, getting a diagnosis, treating and managing depression in seniors.

1. Recognize the Signs

While no two people are the same in how they express or manage their depressive symptoms, the following signs can often indicate that something could be wrong.

  • Persistent low mood
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, or worry
  • Psychological or mental pain
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Trouble sleeping or sleep disturbances
  • Lack of energy or chronic fatigue
  • General irritation or impatience
  • Change in appetite or weight loss/gain
  • Poor concentration

2. Identify Possible Causes

When the signs are identified, it’s important to try to understand why depression is happening. There are many reasons why someone may feel depressed, but for seniors, common triggers can include, but are not limited to:

  • Loneliness
  • Grief from losing a spouse, family member, or friend
  • Limited mobility, or inability to experience activities they once loved
  • Senile dementia
  • Financial stress or anxiety
  • Feeling like they can’t contribute anymore (to the household, workforce, etc.)

3. Symptomatic Behaviour and Indicators

Without treatment, seniors can experience a number of adverse effects to their physical, emotional, and social health. These symptoms or indicators can include:

  • Episodic tantrums or lashing out
  • Memory problems, or troubles with recall
  • Rapid physical health degeneration, faster onset of heart disease and possible triggering of a stroke
  • Feelings of helplessness/hopelessness
  • Problems with close relationships, family and friends

4. What Caregivers Can Do

While it is very difficult to identify and help a person with depression, there are ways that caregivers can get involved in the care of a senior with depressive symptoms.

  • Optimize consultations between caregivers and seniors by asking questions
  • Speak up when you notice a change in their behaviour
  • Seek education in mental health care, like mental health first aid
  • Encourage your loved ones or patients to seek treatment and do the activities they used to enjoy
  • Advocate for more awareness and for others to help or get involved in their care
  • Be a resource for others who are caring for a senior with depression
  • Be patient – there is no set amount of time for someone to recover from depression or any other mental health disorder.

5. Treatment Options

No one deserves to suffer through their final years. If caregivers want to get involved in the recovery of depression, here are some tactics they can try.

  • Encourage light physical activity; endorphins can help elevate moods
  • Foster opportunities for seniors to socialize and talk more with others
  • Enable time outdoors, even simple outings like a stroll, a picnic, or sitting by a river.
  • Schedule time to participate in previously-enjoyed activities and games
  • Exercise their memory by helping them recall or tell old stories, write memoirs, or describe old photographs
  • Ease their stress or anxiety with calming tea, music, or relaxing activities
  • Listen to and acknowledge their concerns, worries, or anxieties
  • Monitor and administer any medications or supplements perscribed to treat depression

Depression in seniors can be managed with doctor recommendations, however, caregivers can help provide the emotional and mental support seniors need to know that they’re not alone and can still share in life’s pleasures with those around them.

If caregiving for a senior with depression is too difficult to manage on your own, our nurses would be happy to provide the support you need to focus on spending quality time with your loved ones. Reach out to schedule a consultation or an at-home visit.

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