We all feel down once in a while – whatever our age – it’s a part of life. But for some people, those feelings can last for weeks or months, and can become debilitating. 

Thankfully, a diagnosis of depression no longer has a stigma attached to it; it’s recognised by society as the genuine illness that it is, and we are talking about it more, with our friends, our family, in the workplace and on social media. 

But, for the older generation things are often a little bit different. They were born in a time where depression wasn’t properly understood, and into a world where the attitude towards mental health was very different, and where you might have been told to ‘pull your socks up’, ‘man up’….a world where you didn’t talk about how you were feeling. 

Add to that the higher possibility that they have a smaller (or no) social circle, as well as be struggling with feelings of isolation or loneliness, and what we’re left with is an entire group of society whose depression might go unnoticed, and untreated.  

If you have an elderly loved one, it’s important to know and recognise the signs and symptoms of depression so that we can help them to seek treatment and ensure they continue to have the best quality of life possible…

What Is Depression?

Depression is a serious illness that can affect how you feel, think and act. It can be common in older adults, often due to life changes such as illness, reduced mobility, or losing a partner – but clinical depression isn’t a ‘normal’ part of aging, and shouldn’t be ignored.

Older adults may experience types of depression such as:

Major Depressive Disorder – a type of depression that can last for a period of several weeks and can affect their ability to perform day-to-day tasks

Persistent Depressive Disorder – this type of depression can last for several years, but doesn’t tend to affect a person’s ability to perform daily tasks

Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder – a type of depression that is related to alcohol or pain medication use.

Depressive Disorder Due To A Medical Condition – depression that stems from living with an illness such as heart disease or MS

It’s worth noting that if a person has lived with depression as a younger person, or there is a family history of depression, they are more likely to be affected in the future. 

Chemical changes within the brain can cause depression, as can high levels of stress such as major life-changing events, including a serious medical diagnosis or the loss of a loved one. 

Factors linked to depression in older people include:

Medical conditions
A family history of depression
Sleep problems
Social isolation
Lack of physical activity

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Depression In Older Adults?

One common question is, ‘does depression look different as we age?’ – and the truth is, that yes, it can. This can make it difficult to recognise that an older loved one is suffering from depression as their symptoms might not present in the same way as they do in younger people.

For example, for older adults, sadness is not often the main symptom of depression. It’s much more likely that they will experience feelings of numbness or a lack of interest in life and the world around them. Common symptoms of depression in older people can include:

Persistent feelings of anxiety, or an ‘empty’ mood
Restlessness and irritability
Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
Decreased energy
Difficulty sleeping or waking too early
Eating more or less than usual
Moving or talking more slowly 
Difficulties in concentrating or remembering things

If an elderly loved one is displaying these signs for more than two weeks, it could be a sign of depression or other health condition, and so the advice of a doctor should be sought. 

But what can you do, as a carer, family member or friend of an older person who has depression? 

Encourage them to seek out medical advice and stick to any prescribed treatment plan

Spend time with them partaking in activities that they might enjoy

Take a walk with them, or perhaps a swim or yoga – physical activity is a great mood booster

What Treatments Are Available For Older People With Depression?

Not all medications or therapies are right for everyone, and often multiple treatments have to be tried in order to find one that works for the individual. 

Psychotherapy, counselling and talking therapies can be useful in identifying changes in thoughts and behaviours, and of course prescribed antidepressants taken under the care of a doctor can help with symptoms. 

It’s important that any treatment plan put in place by a doctor is properly adhered to, and if medications are prescribed they need to be taken at the correct time and in the correct dosage. 

A patient of any age should never increase or decrease their medication, or stop taking it altogether without speaking to a doctor. 

If you are caring for an older person who is undergoing treatment for depression, your role might start to include ensuring that prescriptions are filled, picked up and taken in a timely manner – a vitally important job!

Can We Prevent Depression In The First Place?

In most cases, depression can’t be prevented – BUT, there are some healthy lifestyle changes that we can help our elderly loved ones make that can have great long-term benefits to their mental health.

Such as:

Keeping as physically active as possible
Eating a healthy, balanced diet
Getting a decent night’s sleep – ideally 7-9 hours a night
Indulging in hobbies and pastimes 
Keeping touch as often as possible with family and friends

Caring for an elderly loved one, whether they are living with depression or not, can be as challenging as it is rewarding, but here at Care In Kent we want to help in any way that we can. 

Perhaps you need someone to pop in and have a cuppa and a chat with a loved one so that they’ve seen a friendly face today, or you need help with running errands, or perhaps some respite care. If you want to speak to someone about how we can support you in your caring role, please give a member of our dedicated team a call.