Older people are at risk for depression, are undeserved by the mental health profession, and have the highest rates of suicide in the country. But many seniors are resistant to treatment because they don’t want to burden their families, or equate depression with weakness or even death.
When someone is clinically depressed, you want to be there for that person. But keep in mind that this is a medical condition, so support may mean more than just offering a shoulder to cry on. Here at Home To Home Calls we want to share with you some coping strategies for someone with depression.
(Home To Home Calls is a national daily telephone befriending service, if you would like any more information, do not hesitate to contact us on 0800 316 8802).
Don’t dismiss symptoms
Depression is not normal bereavement or stress. If an elderly loved one is not eating for more than a few days, or loses interest in activities that used to give them pleasure for more than two weeks, it could be depression.
Talk about how they feel
If an elderly loved one can no longer drive, offering to drive them around or pay for a taxi service won’t necessarily soften the blow. The elderly are less likely to cope with loss as well as young people because of the added years of meaning behind it.
Caregivers can help by recognizing its significance, Ask your elderly loved one what they feel about the loss. It’s really important to hear them out and honour their emotions. Listening offers direct comfort and support.
Look for subtle signs
Older adults often say, ‘I am not sad,’ or ‘I am not lonely,’ because they don’t want to be a burden on the family. Instead, they show signs of distress by wringing their hands excessively, getting agitated or irritable, or having difficulty sitting still.
Don’t impose your terminology
For the person who says, ‘No, I am not depressed,’ listen closely to what has changed in their life, For example, if someone says that they can’t sleep, use that as a hook to discuss ideas about how to sleep better or longer.
Recognize that depression is an illness
Family members should be aware of the disability that depression can cause and should avoid making depressed parents or relatives feel guilty by telling them to get out more or pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
Don’t take over a person’s life
Do not try to do things for older people that they can do for themselves. Doing things for a depressed person is often not helpful at all, because it reinforces their perception that they are worthless and incapable. Instead, help your elderly relative break tasks into steps and praise them for any efforts.
Try to participate in medical care
Because of new confidentiality laws, geriatric psychiatrists can’t disclose information to families without their patient’s permission. Many older people do give permission for the doctor to disclose information.