Recognising Signs of Depression in the Elderly

This October is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Depression is a common issue for elderly people, as their physical health is declining and they often have less social interaction. Because of the challenging times we have been (and are still!) going through this past year, the elderly may be even more susceptible to depression, and they're often less likely to reach out for help. Loved ones may assume it's a normal part of ageing - it's not.

We’ve put together some signs to look out for, available treatments and ways in which you can offer support.

Possible Signs of Depression

Difficulty Sleeping
Any kind of sleep disturbance can be a sign of depression – from not sleeping enough to oversleeping.

Negative Thoughts
Examples of this can be when your elderly loved one feels like a burden or keeps wanting to talk about their impending death.

Having the blues for no good reason, or unable to shake a feeling of sadness and frequent crying.

If your loved is isolating from family and friends when they used to enjoy their company, this may be a sign of depression.

You might notice that your loved one has no energy to partake in tasks and activities that once brought joy.

Increased use of Alcohol or Drugs
You might have noticed they have increased their alcohol intake, whether it be in quantity or frequency. 

Weight Loss
Your loved one may have a sudden disinterested in food or noticeable weight loss.

Abandoning Hobbies
Perhaps are they no longer partaking in hobbies and activities that once brought joy.

Ways to Give Support

Stay in touch with them
Social stimulation keeps us active and healthy. Visit your elderly loved one and initiate conversations, whether it be about gardening, grandchildren or family memories. Be open to hearing about feelings of loss, sadness and lack of self-worth. Be willing to listen and try to be empathetic. If COVID-19 restrictions are keeping you from physically visiting, FaceTime them or give a phone call.

Keep them busy with activities
If your loved one is mobile, take them for a walk around or go grocery shopping together. If they are less mobile or bed-bound, play games together, read or look at photos together. For more tips on activities for seniors with limited mobility, click here.

Check their medications
Talk to their doctor or pharmacist if you suspect there may be side-effects of medication affecting the mood of your elderly loved one.

Keep a close watch
If you think there may be poor nutrition, dehydration or a sudden decline in health, take your loved one to visit their doctor and seek an action plan.

Available Treatments

There are several antidepressant medications available that are effective in the treatment of depression. Please note that these always need to be prescribed and monitored by a doctor.

Counselling and Psychotherapy
Counselling and therapy can help identify issues that contribute to the depression and help your loved one better cope with negative feelings. These sessions can take place one-on-one or in groups.

In some cases the depression may be so severe that intense treatment at the hospital is needed until the person's condition improves. 

Depression requires medical treatment and intervention. If the situation is more urgent and your elderly loved one is in danger and needs immediate support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Whether you're worried about someone, would like to talk to someone yourself or find out more about depression and what you can do about it, visit the Lifeline website by clicking here.

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