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Senior Depression: What Causes it and How to Help

Emotional Wellbeing | May 30, 2023

Depressed senior woman being comforted by her daughter.

Senior Depression: What Causes it and How to Help

Feeling down occasionally is a typical part of life, regardless of age. If you notice, though, that the feelings tend to last a few weeks or months, you or your loved one may have depression. Depression is a serious mood disorder that can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life. Depression is a common issue for older adults, but clinical depression is not a normal part of aging. While the topic may feel taboo to address, either on your own or with a loved one, it is critical to talk about depression to curb any major negative symptoms.

For most seniors, depression gets better with treatment – whether that be counseling, medicine, or other forms of care. If you believe that you or your loved one is depressed, it’s important to understand the stigma and what you can do to help address it. Let’s dive deeper into what causes depression in seniors, what it looks like, and what you can do to help them live a full and active life.

What Does Depression Look Like in Seniors

Depression can have different effects on seniors compared to younger adults. In seniors, depression often pairs alongside other medical illnesses and disabilities. This can cause it to “look different” as it does not present in the same way it might in a younger person. On top of that, depression in seniors has a chance of lasting longer.

Depression can be harder to detect and diagnose in seniors, since it often shows up differently in older age groups compared to younger ones. For example, fatigue can be easily ignored and attributed to old age. Because depression in seniors is tied to an increased risk of other diseases, it can pose a significant risk to that person’s ability to rehabilitate and get better. It is important to notice the signs of depression before it becomes a bigger health risk.

Aside from the typical signs of depression, depression in seniors may look like:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hostility
  • Confusion
  • Short attention span
  • Apathy toward hobbies
  • Further slowed down movements
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you notice any of these changes in you or your loved one’s behavior, you may want to talk with your doctor. Your primary care doctor can check for depression and help you or your loved one address the issue sooner rather than later.

Depression vs. Dementia

When looking for changes in you or your loved one’s behavior, it’s important not to confuse signs of depression with signs of dementia. They can be difficult to tell apart as they share similar symptoms, such as:

  • Memory problems
  • Sluggish speech and movements
  • Low motivation

To understand the root cause of you or your loved one’s cognitive decline, you should see a doctor right away. If it’s depression – memory, concentration, and energy return to normal with treatment. Treating dementia, on the other hand, would require a different rehabilitation plan to reverse, halt, or slow symptoms.

What Causes Depression in Seniors?

Seniors tend to be at an increased risk of developing depression. Oftentimes when a senior is depressed, there are multiple reasons why it has manifested. In addition to the general stressors of life, seniors also face a host of unique depression risk factors such as:

  • Chronic illness and pain
  • Decreased functional ability
  • Reduced mobility
  • Loneliness
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Cognitive decline
  • Certain medications
  • Disability
  • Fear of death
  • Lack of independence
  • Being single, unmarried, divorced, or widowed
  • Lack of a supportive social network

Many seniors face one or more of these unique stressors daily. Unfortunately, many seniors aren’t getting the help they need for their symptoms. While you or your loved one may assume that sadness or depression is just a part of growing older, extended periods of depression are not a normal part of aging. Treating the root cause of depression in seniors can be challenging. Luckily, there are several care options and things you can do to help.

How to Help Your Loved One Deal with Depression

To treat depression fully and properly, you or your loved one should talk with your doctor to form a game plan. As a caretaker or family member of a person with depression, know that there are plenty of resources to help you learn more about their condition and how you can support their treatment. To help, here are a few things you can do to help your loved one as they deal with depression:

Take Your Loved One Out

Keeping your loved one active is one way you can help them keep their mind refreshed. We recommend activities that your loved one enjoys. From walks and art classes to a trip to the movies—you should go out and do anything that provides mental or physical stimulation. For an added experience, take your loved one out to one of their favorite spots to eat!

Plan Social Activities

Social outings are a great opportunity for seniors to feel connected. Activities for seniors with depression can include group outings, visits from friends and family members, or trips to the local community center. By staying active in their community, you can help them combat isolation and loneliness.

Support Their Treatment Plan

Diagnosed depression can only be treated properly with medical intervention. One of the best things you can do to help your loved one is to encourage them to keep up with their treatment plan. If they are still struggling and not making progress, you should encourage them to look into other medications and therapies.

Encourage Them to Learn a New Skill

Learning a new skill is a great way for your loved one to find a new joy in life while sparking their imagination. Whether that’s a musical instrument, sport, or new language, learning new activities can help them maintain their brain health and prevent mental decline.

Encourage Them to Get Involved

Encourage your loved one to attend a local event or volunteer for a cause that’s important to them. Community work can be a great way of utilizing and passing on the skills they honed throughout their lives—without the commitment or stress of regular employment. This could involve joining a senior center, a book club, or even join one of the many senior depression support groups.

Understand the Stigma: Help Your Loved One Feel Seen

Discussing mental health with your loved one can be challenging. Understanding how they feel as they age is an important step to opening a greater dialogue about this difficult subject. Of course, taking the time to encourage healthy habits with your elderly parents is just one part of being a family caregiver. Don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals for help when you need it. National Church Residences takes an individual approach to support seniors and help them live a healthier, more satisfying lifestyle. Find out how we can help you find the right senior living options for your loved one in your area. Give us a call at 844-465-6063 to talk to one of our friendly staff members today

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National Church Residences does not discriminate against individuals based on race, color, disability, familial status, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, payment source, or any other class protected by applicable law, whether in employment or its activities, programs, or services. National Church Residences also does not discriminate based on age, except as required by government entitlements or permitted by applicable law for seniors.