Many older adults experience feelings of depression. There are several factors that contribute to this, including physical ailments or the loss of a spouse or friend. However, one thing that we all need to know is that depression is NOT a normal part of aging.
Here are a few signs that the aging loved one in your life may be depressed:
- Changes in impulse control
- Not caring about themselves i.e. hygiene, health
- Isolating themselves
- Major changes in personality
- Won’t describe their feelings, may say statements like “I’m a burden to everyone”
For those caring for a senior with depression, the risk of acquiring these same feelings dramatically increase. In a sense, depression works in a cycle, starting with the older adult, transferring to the caregiver which thus further affects the older person’s illness. Within this cycle lies the true ironic tragedy of caregiving — those who are ensuring the health and safety of others end up impairing their own health and wellbeing. The National Family Caregivers Association has found that 40% to 70% of family caregivers experience depression, and that the stress of caregiving can take up to 10 years off of the life of a caregiver. These staggering statistics show that we need to address the issues of depression in our aging loved ones, not only for their health but also for the welfare of caregivers.
While recognizing the presence of depression is important, finding the treatment that best matches the needs of an aging adult is essential, and often falls on the shoulders of the caregiver. But how do you encourage the person you are caring for to seek help? Be their advocate. Let them know that just because they may be diagnosed with depression does not mean they must be institutionalized. For a generation that generally stigmatized depression, the fear of institutionalization is very real, and explaining that there are other solutions for care is important for a caregiver to express. Overall, voicing your concern for their wellbeing may just be the convincing factor for them to find treatment and thus break the cycle of depression.