Depression is fairly common among senior adults who live into very old age. Older seniors may experience many losses that affect their emotional wellbeing. The death of a beloved pet is difficult for any animal lover but consider how you might feel if over a matter of months or years you outlived all of your siblings, most of your friends, your spouse and even one or more adult children. These losses build up over time and can create chronic depression for seniors who live a very long time. Add to this grief-stricken state the losses of eyesight, hearing, driving privileges, mobility, a sense of purpose and the onset of chronic pain and illnesses and a senior has every reasonable reason to be depressed. How do you know if your loved one is really depressed or suffering from some other condition?
Most of us know that signals such as loss of appetite, disinterest in having lunch with friends or attending church services, and declining hygiene habits are some of the warning signs of depression. But these can also be harbingers of dementia or other chronic conditions. Unexpected behaviors like forgetfulness, confusion, and even medication avoidance or mismanagement that develop suddenly and progress quickly can also indicate your loved one is experiencing acute depression, or they might be caused by an organic issue like a severe urinary tract infection. And all these symptoms could also be caused by a medication’s side effects or polypharmacy, which happens when one or more prescribed medication interacts negatively with another one. The best way to avoid this problem is to use the same pharmacist over time and develop a relationship so your pharmacist knows all the medications your loved one takes.
Here is a checklist on signs of depression and more information from the National Institutes of Health.
A visit to your loved one’s primary care physician might offer some answers to help brighten the day for both you and the one you care for. If depression is diagnosed, the doctor might suggest a medication or changing routines in the home to bring a sense of purpose and self-worth back to your loved one’s life. If a chronic condition is to blame for their symptoms try to learn as much as possible about the condition and how to manage it for optimal outcomes. Caregiverstress.com has some great resources here on coping strategies.
Developing a new hobby that is suited to your loved one’s current abilities might bring a smile back to their face and a light to their eyes. The important thing is to be aware and observant. Because you are with your senior frequently, you might miss changes that occur slowly over time. Try asking less frequent visitors to alert you if they notice unexpected changes.
Finally, trust God to give you and your loved one the strength and encouragement you both need to get through each day with a purpose and a plan. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish when you both start the day with an intentional direction in mind. Celebrate the little wins. Like I used to tell my mother, “If you are still breathing, then God isn’t finished with you yet!” It always made her smile.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about Depression’s Downside.