Aging means a series of progressive losses including withdrawal from work, loss of purpose, reduced independence, loss of friends, increased poverty, the risk of developing an illness leading to long-term disability, isolation and loneliness. Your loved one may be feeling sad, and alone.
An Increase in Sadness
Aging means a series of progressive losses including withdrawal from work, loss of purpose, reduced independence, loss of friends, increased poverty, the risk of developing an illness leading to long-term disability, isolation and loneliness. Your loved one may be feeling sad and alone.
According to Health Canada, it is estimated that 5% to 10% of seniors living in the community will experience a depressive disorder that is serious enough to require treatment. And the rate of anxiety and depression dramatically increases to 30% to 40% for seniors living in institutions. The great news is that most people with depression (over 80%) respond well to treatment and achieve a complete and lasting recovery.
Sadly, 90% will NOT seek out the help they need or their depression will be missed or ignored, denying them beneficial treatment for mental health problems.
How do I know if its depression?
A depressive illness is more than just feeling sad. Depression affects the whole person including their feelings, thinking and physical health. It also lasts a long time.
The most common symptoms of depression include:
- Changes in appetite – with a resultant weight loss or weight gain.
- Sleep disturbances- with trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much.
- Sleep, when it comes, does not restore and refresh. People often report feeling worse in the morning with the mood lifting as the day goes on.
- Decreased energy, with feelings of weakness and physical fatigue.
- Some people experience agitation with restlessness and have a need to move constantly.
- Phantom pains, headaches, muscle aches and pains, with no known physical cause.
- Stomach upsets – constipation.
Changes in thinking
- Thoughts may be confused or slowed down which makes thinking, concentrating or remembering information difficult.
- Decision-making is difficult and often avoided.
- Obsessive ruminations, a sense of impending doom or disaster.
- Preoccupation with perceived failures or personal inadequacies leading to a loss in self-confidence.
- Becoming harshly self-critical and unfairly judgmental.
- In extreme cases, there can be a loss of being in touch with reality, perhaps
- Hearing voices (hallucinations) or having strange ideas (delusions).
- Persistent thoughts of death, suicide or attempts to hurt oneself.
Changes in feeling
- Loss of interest in activities that were once a source of pleasure.
- Decreased interest in and enjoyment from sex.
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and excessive guilt.
- Deadening or an absence of feelings.
- Sense of overwhelming or impending doom.
- Loss of self-esteem.
- Feeling sad, blue and down in the dumps that may be worse in the morning lifting
- as the day goes on.
- Crying for no apparent reason.
- Irritability, impatience, anger and aggressive feelings.
Changes in behaviour
- Withdrawal from social and leisure activities.
- Failure to make important decisions.
- Neglecting duties such as housework, gardening, paying bills.
- Decrease in physical activity and exercise.
- Reduced self-care such as personal grooming, eating.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs (prescription and non-prescription).
How to Help
1. Help build social supports
The paradox of depression is that at a time when your loved one most needs to draw people close – they may want to avoid contact with others. However, most people find that the support of family and friends, participation in a self-help group or talking with a professional counselor can be very helpful in overcoming depression. Dealing with social isolation is an important part of healing and can help prevent further episodes of illness. Lots of studies show us that being part of a supportive family, being part of a religious group or being active in your community is an important part of health, wellbeing and improved quality of life. Encourage your loved one to join a support group for depression as part of their recovery.
2. Talk and Active Listening
Talking and Active Listening can be very helpful in dealing with losses, solving challenging problems or dealing with the social impact of depression. Talking & Listening is a form of therapy that can help your loved one look at their thought patterns which may be negative and self-criticizing. Listening to someone talk can help them process their feelings, and it creates a sense of connection. It will also help them make the connection between their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. What they think affects how they feel and how they behave.
3. Consider Volunteering
Help your loved one find out about how to get involved in their local community. There are volunteer bureaus across the country that can help your loved one find just the right kind of activity to suit their interests and needs.
4. Encourage physically active
Recent research has found that moderate exercise and light weight lifting has a remarkable ability to treat depression in seniors. In fact, moderate exercise has been found to be as effective in treating mild depression as medication. Strengthening your loved one’s muscles has also been found to reduce the risk of falling and hip fractures – the number one reason seniors end up in institutional care. An exercise program should include active movement to build balance and coordination, stretching to improve flexibility by moving your joints through their full range of motion, ways to strengthening your muscles, and, finally, activities to get your heart pumping. Encourage your loved one to joining a senior’s exercise program in their local community to strengthen their social network as well as their body. Health Canada has a useful Physical Activity Guide to Healthy, Active Living for Older Adults (telephone 1-888-334-9769; website http://www.paguide.com ). It’s free, easy to read in large type and provides useful tips for increasing physical activity for the elderly.
5. Exercise the mind
Along with aging often come subtle changes in brain functioning. It may not seem as easy to remember names. Learning new skills can seem harder. But just like your body, a healthy nimble mind requires active exercise. Think of ways to challenge your loved ones’ brain. Playing chess, bridge, computer games or crossword puzzles.
6. Monitor Healthy Eating Habits
Diet plays an important role in preventing illness and keeping us well. The absence of essential minerals and vitamins is associated with many serious health problems including depression. Many seniors neglect this important part of their health. If your loved one lives alone, it may not seem worth the effort to cook themselves a meal. Depression can also rob people of their appetite. Use a reminder such as a timing clock or phone call to tell your loved when to eat. Restore balance by starting to keep track of what your loved one is eating.
7. Music soothes and ignites the soul
There is nothing more stirring than listening to music – except perhaps playing it or singing along. In fact, music can help your loved one soothe anxiety and lift their spirit. They may want to join a choir or sing along to their favourite tunes through a MP3 or iPod device. Just make sure you download a large dose of music for their day.
8. Laugh, Laugh, Laugh
Research again shows us that there is powerful healing in laughter. It changes our brain chemistry in a positive way and helps us look at problems in new and creative ways. So go rent a comedy film or whatever brings a smile to their face.
9. Ask for help if you need it
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Working through concerns with a professional can bring out new ideas and offer a fresh perspective in solving problems. Having help can help your loved one stay in charge of making their own decisions.