Depression is not a normal or inevitable result of aging, and the warning signs should not be ignored.
"There is not a distinct line between the symptoms of grief, loneliness and depression," says Dr. Victoria Walker, vice president of medical services and quality for the Good Samaritan Society. "Focus on being present as a genuine, caring person who is there to support them. If there are aspects that are alarming — such as neglect of self-care or talk of suicide — insist on involving a professional for help."
Warning signs of depression may include:
- Exhaustion or insomnia
- Excessive sleep
- Loss of joy in favorite pastimes
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of weight or appetite
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Anxiety, irritability or agitation
- Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
- Neglected hygiene and personal care
Genetics, chemical imbalances, medication side effects, health conditions and traumatic experiences may cause depression at any age.
Experiencing a loss can also trigger depression.
Many depressed seniors will not reach out for help.
They may assume what they are feeling is normal. Or they may see depression as a weakness instead of the illness it is.
Other times, they don’t know where to turn, or they don't want to feel like a burden.
Ways you can offer support to a senior experiencing depression:
- Make time for a private conversation with the person. "Share how important they are to you, and express concern because they don't seem like themselves," says Dr. Victoria Walker, vice president of medical services and quality for the Good Samaritan Society. "This may create a safe space for them to open up about what is happening in their life."
- Don't ignore the warning signs. "If you're concerned about someone's mental health, and they adamantly deny a problem, it generally is not beneficial to argue with them," says Dr. Walker. "In this situation, reiterate why you are concerned, and ask them if they'd be willing to see a doctor to get checked for those reasons, to help you worry less."
- Schedule appointments with a professional therapist and/or medical doctor who can offer their expertise in treating depression.
- Help them renew their sense of purpose. Look for creative ways to help them continue hobbies or favorite pastimes.
- Give your loved one something to look forward to. Take them to dinner, or the movies, or a favorite business in town. If you live far away, in-home companion services could help.
- Look for ways to help them socialize and connect with people. Check with the local senior center for clubs, social events or support groups to join.
- Don't give up. Even if the person says they don't want your help or your company, make sure they know you're always going to be there for them — especially when times are hard. "Simply be sincere in expressing to the person how important they are to you," Dr. Walker says. "Sharing with them the gratitude that you have for them, and the impact they have on your life, is often therapeutic for both of you."
If you suspect someone's depression is worsening or they talk about suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.