Recognizing the symptoms of senior depression in your loved one
When you find yourself caring for your parent or elder loved one the details and logistics of doctors, nurses, medications, and just being responsible for another person’s wellbeing can seem overwhelming. There can be so much to tend to that it can be easy to completely fail to recognize that your parent or loved one is not just having a hard time adjusting to their new circumstances but struggling with depression.
Senior depression does not have to be inevitable, and is not just a side effect of aging. While it can be normal to feel a little down or sad about changes, depression goes deeper and can impact nor only quality of life for your parent, but also their prognosis and ability to bounce back from illness or injury.
One danger with senior depression is that it can be overlooked for many reasons, including by your loved one themselves. They may assume that it is just a normal part of getting older. They may be feeling isolated and invisible, which can lead to or make worse depression. They may discount physical complaints as separate (such as fatigue) instead as of part of a depressive state. They may recognize that something is “off” or wrong, but feel reluctant to talk about their feelings or ask for help, particularly if they were resistant to your care giving efforts to begin with.
What are some common causes of depression in Seniors?
A loss of direction or purpose is often experienced by seniors as an effect of retirement, illness that restricts usual activity, or relocation.
Loneliness or isolation can be a huge factor as your parent gets older. They may be watching their social circle slowly dwindle around them as their peers relocate or pass away, or as they themselves move for changing care needs. Or perhaps they have decreased mobility due to injury or a loss of driving ability that keeps them more confined than they were.
Fear and anxiety can snowball into depression as well. These underlying issues may be a fear of death or suffering, or anxiety over finances.
Grief can trigger pronounced depression if your loved one has experienced a recent loss of spouse, partner, friend or pet. Grief is normal as one experiences a loss, and it does not have to a physical death. One can grieve over loss of independence or health or career as well as loss of a person. While a certain amount of sadness and malaise is normal and expected, a loss of all hope, joy and purpose points to a deeper issue.
Health problems, such as a chronic illness, disability, severe pain or a change in appearance from a surgery or disease may have your loved one feeling helpless and hopeless.
Any chronic medical condition can lead to, or exacerbate depression symptoms. Some common culprits are:
- Thyroid disorder
- Heart Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
Prescription medication, while intended to help your loved one, may also be a hidden culprit. Depression is a common side effect of many drugs prescribed for issues that your loved one may experience as they age. It is important to know what your loved one is taking, particularly if they are taking multiple medications, as it puts them at a higher risk for side effects related to them.
Some medications that are known to cause or deepen depression are:
- Beta-Blockers (Lopressor, etc)
- Blood Pressure medication (clonidine)
- Sleeping Aids
- Parkinson’s medication
- Ulcer Medication (Zantac, Tagament)
- Cholesterol drugs (Lipator, Zocor)
- Arthritis medication
- Hormone replacements (Premarin, Prempro)
- Drugs containing reserpine (commonly used in heart medications)
If you notice a sudden shift in mood after your loved one has changed medications, be sure to note the changes and talk to your loved ones doctor about changing the dosage or switching to a medication with a lower risk of mood effects.
Recognizing Depression- Common symptoms of senior depression
The things to look for when evaluating your loved one for possible depression include:
- Feelings of or talking about feeling hopeless and helpless
- Anxiety and worry, particularly if it seems to be paralyzing
- Memory problems
- Increased, marked irritability
- Loss of interest or desire in socializing or hobbies
- Loss of motivation and energy for day to day tasks
- Neglecting their own needs (skipping medication, meals, baths, etc)
- Giving away or off-loading of personal items and keepsakes
If you find that your parent or elder loved one seems to fit many of the criteria on the list above then it would be a good idea to keep a running journal or log of these concerns so that you can effectively communicate them to your loved one and their care provider.
Depression can be serious, but there are some ways that you as a care giver can help provide opportunities and outlets to battle depression. Next Thursday we will look at treatment options for senior depression and how to evaluate them.
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