There are symptoms we all associate with ageing. Everyone expects grey hair, a few extra wrinkles and less physical ability. However, there are certain symptoms demonstrated by the elderly which can be taken for granted. Excessive complaints of physical pain, slow deliberate movement, slackened speech, a will to isolate one’s self from others, or even direct expressions of guilt and sadness are all potential indicators of much more than just age.
Older adults are among the most likely to suffer severe depression – second only to young adults. It is so common a condition among seniors that many people confuse these symptoms as being natural to ageing. But in order to reduce the condition’s impact on you or your family members’ wellbeing, it’s important to know how to identify these symptoms.
What causes depression in older adults?
It may surprise some that the incidence of depression is so high among seniors, an age group in which people often retire and free themselves of financial responsibility. But there are many circumstances which can cause depression to become so common among seniors. Symptoms of grief are healthy and natural after a tragedy, but those who do not eventually come to terms may be depressed.
Medical conditions and medications used to treat certain conditions can produce depression either directly or as a psychological consequence. Cancer and diabetes are terminal conditions which contribute to depression rates considerably, along with strokes, heart disease, various forms of dementia and physical disabilities.
For others, financial difficulties and a need for continued employment through the years of retirement can cause depression. In fact, seniors are poised to be the quickest growing demographic in our workforce within the next four decades. But the physical and mental exertion required of a full-time job can become unmanageable for some once they age.
Others who need work to support themselves, but are unable to find employment due to their age can suffer depression as anyone would; individuals dealing with unemployment grapple with depression much like those mourning the loss of a friend or handling a divorce. No matter the reason, remember that any major life-changing event can have significant consequences on our mental wellbeing, and adjusting to life as a retiree is no different.
How can I help depressed seniors?
As with anyone suffering depression, it’s key to recognise that it is a treatable condition and those afflicted should seek counselling and medical aid as prescribed. More importantly, elders and caregivers should consider that the conditions in which seniors live can contribute to depression. Often, elders choose to isolate themselves and appear lost in thought. While a desire for some privacy is perfectly healthy, it can lead to loneliness and depression if isolation is constant.
To combat depression due to isolation and loneliness, older adults should try to stay involved in community or church-related events when available and try to become an active member of a household in daily routines and chores. Retirement communities can be an excellent living solution for elderly individuals who aren’t involved with others in their area. Any environment which gives the elderly meaningful routines is a preferable living arrangement than others.
Another good way to diagnose depression in yourself or others who might be suffering, is by being an active and responsive listener. A non-judgemental ear to the concerns and anxieties of elders can help them tremendously. If you or an elderly loved one have feelings of low self-worth, guilt, or even ideas of suicide, take their words very seriously and provide as much help as you are capable. Most importantly, know when professional assistance is necessary.
For further information about depression, visit beyondblue.org.au.
About the author:
Morgan Darrow, who currently writes with Suncorp Superannuation, is a lifelong advocate for awareness of the special needs of seniors. After spending several years volunteering in a retirement home within her own community, she began a now decade-long career in real estate. She dabbles in writing and enjoys spending time with her fiancé.