Easing Senior Depression
As mental health advocacy grows, the stigma associated with depression lessens. But for older Baby Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation, long held opinions are difficult to change. That’s one of the reasons that many seniors who experience depression won’t seek help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of suicide among Americans of all ages is 12.4 per 100,000 per year. Among Americans over the age of 65, the rate is 14.9 per 100,000 and suicide in that age group is believed to be under-reported. Paradoxically, senior depression is usually diagnosed as subsyndromal symptomatic depression, meaning it does not meet the criteria for major depression.
Depression for people after the age of 65 is often associated with relatively uncontrollable life changes, particularly those that alter independence. One hallmark of American culture is proud independence, so when a senior is no longer able to drive, bank or pursue personal interests on his or her own, the forced dependence goes against a strong belief system.
It’s important for family members and caregivers to talk through what might be considered radical changes with seniors. When faced with someone who appears stubborn or belligerent about change, many caregivers throw up their hands and disengage from conversation. But in order to ease the depression that can come with change, muscling through can make a world of difference.
Asking questions like, “Do you remember a time when you were young and you felt like you weren’t in control?” and “Why do you think being in control is important?” can be a good starting point for a difficult conversation. Showing gratitude when emotional comments are shared is another way to keep the conversation going. Express how flattered you are that your elderly family member or friend is confiding their feelings to you.
Isolation and loneliness can also lead to senior depression. Sadness begets sadness when it comes to isolation. If a senior is feeling down, he or she is less likely to make the effort to engage in activities or seek companionship. Seniors’ tendency to perpetuate isolation was one of the problems that CarexTech addressed with the development of Smile, their integrated communication and engagement platform used by assisted living communities. SmileTM allows caregivers to keep track of resident engagement and quickly address residents who may be isolating themselves.
Anxiety about finances is also one of the major causes of depression among the elderly. According to the Kaiser Foundation’s 2015 Poverty Among Seniors report, “In 2013, half of all people on Medicare had incomes less than $23,500, which is equivalent to 200 percent of poverty in 2015.”
When families are unable to contribute to the financial needs of seniors, more than just the senior feels anxiety and frustration. Action is often a way to address the depression that comes with financial problems. Both seniors and their caregivers can begin by researching available assistance and getting in contact with agencies that may offer assistance.
When senior depression continues unabated, it’s important to seek medical help. A variety of treatment methods are available and often offer relatively quick improvement in mood and outlook. Regardless of cause or circumstances, no senior needs to suffer endless depression.