February 4, 2011

Depression is not considered a part of the normal aging process. However, depression late in life is quite common: an astounding 19 percent of those aged 65 and older, or some 6.5 million, experience it. Forced relocation, such as having to move into a facility, can greatly increase the likelihood of developing depression in seniors.

Many elderly people report feeling useless, or feel as though they are not taken seriously, and that anything they say is perceived to have little value.

Depression often appears in nursing home residents. Individuals may begin to feel that their life lacks significant goals or ambitions, and they feel abandoned. Older adults living at home alone who have no social support are also at high risk of developing depressive symptoms.

In addition, late-life depression is associated with deteriorating physical health and multiple chronic medical conditions. Twenty five percent of seniors with restricted mobility and physical capabilities develop major depression within two years of the disability’s onset.

Some of the most common signs of depression in the elderly that family members or seniors themselves can observe are:
•Changes in sleeping patterns.
•Weight loss.
•Changes in appetite.
•Loss of interest in hobbies and pastimes.
•Decreased attention to personal hygiene.

Cases of depression in the elderly population are extremely underdiagnosed and therefore undertreated, so the first step in fighting or preventing depression is to consult a physician. Treating depression with the help of a healthcare professional can be a smoother and easier process than battling it alone.

What Can You Do?

There are a number of easy ways to enrich senior’s lives and help prevent depression. For example, caregivers at Griswold Special Care make sure that our clients go for walks on a regular basis, maintain a healthy diet and eating schedule, and discover new recreational skills or hobbies such as knitting or scrapbooking.

Also, keeping in regular contact with friends, neighbors and family members can positively influence an aging individual’s confidence and overall well-being. As many seniors report finding joy in making other people happy, volunteering and engaging in the activities that benefit the lives of others are additional tools to fight depressive symptoms. Moreover, involvement in recreational activities such as games or reading can increase, or at least maintain, brain activity. As a result, this participation has the potential to give seniors confidence in their cognitive abilities.

For seniors living alone, having a personal caregiver to assist with the tasks and activities of everyday living or a companion to share favorite hobbies with can be both beneficial and joyful. Here at Griswold Special Care, we personally match clients with caregivers to reflect the client’s personal preferences, interests, and characteristics, and also ensure that a caregiver becomes a true friend and a member of the family.

Diane Walker, RN, MS, is the Vice president of Quality and Compliance at Griswold Special Care. Diane is responsible for developing ongoing educational programs for professional and family caregivers. Diane is the editor for the Caring Times, a publication and website for caregivers and healthcare professionals.