The elderly face many more challenges than their younger counterparts. They are at an age where death is almost expected whether it is reading about a friend in the paper or losing a family member. They also face more health problems. These factors can often lead to depression if older people do not have the appropriate support systems in place. Depression does not have to happen and it is not part of aging. However it can happen and it will prevent an elderly person from living a full life as they are more likely to withdraw into themselves and their memories.
The biggest thing a family can do for their elderly parent or relative is to learn to distinguish between the symptoms of depression and of grief. Grief occurs much more frequently for the elderly as they are more likely to lose loved ones, their health, their mobility, their freedoms, and their careers. Doctors know grief is painful and can last a long time sometimes even weeks. It is when these weeks start to turn in to months and the griever’s behaviors start to change that is cause for concern.
Depression in the elderly is more likely to go unchecked and untreated than in any other age group. Often relatives do not visit as often so do not notice how long the person has been feeling sad. Some assume feeling sad is part of aging, although that could not be further from the truth. Even doctors are often more concerned about the physical well-being of their patients rather than their emotion state. The consequences of these inactions are cause for serious concern. Depressed elderly individuals are at a higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse, illness, and suicide. Their relatives need to be able to discern when a person is depressed and to watch out for the warning signs.
Warning signs for depression in the elderly can be isolation, extreme sadness, loss of interest in hobbies, weight loss, difficulties sleeping, feelings of being a burden to their family, lack of personal hygiene, even possible suicide attempts. Sometimes the signs are harder to see as the depressed elderly individual may not even feel sad. It may be that they are constantly worrying, wringing their hands, complaining more than usual, experiencing more aches and pains than before, pacing in the home, or even generally lacking energy. These are all signs of depression that relatives should be on the lookout for so they can help the elderly seek the treatment they need and deserve.
Treatment is available and necessary. As the general population of Americans age, the once-called “baby boomers” are now turning into our elderly. The population of elderly is steadily increasing at rates never before seen. It is essential for families and relatives to pull together to help keep an eye on our older loved ones. Perhaps it is as simple as inviting a parent, grand-parent, or elderly aunt over for supper. Perhaps it is getting involved at the local recreation center and organizing activities for the elderly. Perhaps it is watching over older family members more closely to make sure they are eating properly and taking their medications on time. Whatever we choose to do, it is our responsibility as the younger generation to look after our elders.