80% of elderly people with depression can be helped

80% of elderly people with depression can be helped

As we enter Mental Health Awareness Week in 2024, it’s as important as ever to understand depression and how we can recognise it in our elderly loved ones.

One in five elderly people in our communities is living with depression. While stigma surrounding depression has existed historically, there has been significant progress in raising awareness and understanding of the condition in recent years. Notably, Depression Awareness Week and Mental Health Action Week are annual events held in the UK to foster greater societal acceptance and support for individuals grappling with depression and other mental health challenges.

All of this is good news for elderly people who encounter such issues, as more than 80% of people with depression can be helped with the appropriate treatment and the support of family, friends and carers. However, one has to understand the nature of depression in order to be able to spot and treat it.

What is depression?

Depression is a complex mental health condition characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness. People with depression often experience a loss of interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed, as well as difficulties in concentration, decision-making, and memory.

In addition to its impact on mental well-being, depression can manifest in physical symptoms such as changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and various aches and pains throughout the body. Depression can vary in severity and duration, and it can significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life if left untreated.

Why do so many elderly people experience depression?

The prevalence of depression among elderly individuals can be attributed to various factors, with loss being a prominent contributor. Elderly people commonly experience significant losses, such as the loss of a partner, declining health, diminishing social circles, and the loss of mobility and independence. Understandably, grappling with these losses often serve as significant triggers for depression. Various health conditions common among the elderly, including heart problems, cancer, low thyroid activity, and the aftermath of a stroke, can further exacerbate the likelihood of experiencing depression.

How can I spot the symptoms of depression in my elderly relative?

Keeping a close eye on your loved one can help you to spot the symptoms of depression. They may be extremely tired or listless and sad all of the time. They may demonstrate a sudden lack of self-confidence or self-esteem and have difficulty concentrating. They may also retreat into their shell and shun social activities.

Further symptoms could include:

  • Sleep problems: Insomnia, waking up too early, or oversleeping are common symptoms of depression in the elderly.
  • Loss of interest in activities: Notice if your relative no longer participates in activities they once enjoyed or shows little enthusiasm for things they used to find pleasurable.
  • Changes in appetite or weight: Major changes in appetite or weight, either an increase or decrease, can be linked to depression and anxiety.
  • Neglecting Personal Care: A noticeable change in personal hygiene habits can be a sign of depression.
  • Increased irritability or agitation: Depression in older adults can sometimes manifest as irritability, impatience, or restlessness rather than persistent sadness.

What help is available?

There is a wide range of treatments available for depression. The earlier you spot the symptoms and get your loved one to a GP, the easier it will be to treat. Opening a conversation with your GP about depression can be daunting, but it’s a crucial step toward getting the support needed. You might begin by expressing your concerns openly and honestly, sharing any changes in mood or behaviour you’ve observed in yourself or your loved one. Your GP is there to help and can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the process.

Live-in care can be a real asset to an elderly person with depression, as it provides much-needed companionship and emotional support throughout the day. A live-in carer can also ease some of the practical burdens, such as housework and cooking, which may be exacerbating a depressive state in an elderly person.

In conjunction with the medication and therapies prescribed by your doctor, exploring the practice of positive thinking can be beneficial. Mindhealthdevelopment.co.uk provides resources for fostering positive thinking among individuals coping with depression and mental health challenges. Moreover, they offer training programs for caregivers within the UK’s foremost live-in care organisations, equipping them with strategies to promote positive thinking among the elderly individuals under their care.

How can you help your loved ones?

While it’s important to seek professional help for depression, there are ways you can help a loved one through this time, too.

Some ways you can provide support include:

  • Simply being there: Being able to sit down and listen without judgement can be really comforting.
  • Encourage healthy habits: Engaging in activities they enjoy, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet can all help with depression.
  • Be patient: Recovering from depression will take time, and there will be setbacks along the way. Be patient and understanding with your loved one, avoiding putting pressure on them to “get better” quickly.
  • Encourage social connections: Encourage your loved one to maintain social connections and engage in activities they enjoy. Spending time with supportive friends and family can provide much-needed emotional support and companionship.
  • Respect their boundaries: While it’s important to offer support, respect your loved one’s boundaries and autonomy. Allow them to express their needs and preferences, and avoid pushing them into activities or interactions they’re not comfortable with.

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