The circle of life is such that young children become adults who are eventually tasked with caring for their aging parents – the same parents who once nurtured them into the world. And of all the physical and mental afflictions that affect elderly individuals, watching a parent suffer from depression is especially challenging.
The Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly
Depression might not be a normal part of the aging process, but it’s certainly becoming more commonplace in America’s elderly population. Of those who require some sort of healthcare – whether at home or in a facility – depression rates range from 11.5 percent to 13.5 percent. Signs and symptoms include:
- Regular and prolonged feelings of sadness and/or apathy
- Disinterest in activities and hobbies that once brought pleasure
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- An unusual fixation on death (including thoughts of suicide)
- Neglecting basic personal care (including hygiene and medicine)
Some of these signs and symptoms may not be immediately obvious from the outside looking in. However, it’s important to stay vigilant and to remain aware of the fact that depression rates do increase dramatically when long-term care is introduced.
5 Practical Ways You Can Help
As an adult child of an aging parent, it’s important that you watch out for their best interests. This means remaining privy to the possibility of depression and proactively addressing it whenever possible. Here are a few steps you can take:
1. Have Frank Conversations
Communication is critically important. Gather your parents and siblings to have frequent and frank conversations about how they’re doing. Ask probing questions and study their answers.
Don’t be afraid to be direct with your questioning. Elder abuse is overwhelmingly common in assisted-living and nursing home environments. It also happens to be a major contributing factor to depression in elderly individuals. If you suspect this could be an issue, you’ll want to find legal representation for elder injury.
2. Check-In on a Regular Basis
Whether your aging parent is continuing to live in their home, or they’ve moved into a nursing home or care facility, be proactive about checking in on them.
Regular communication does a couple of things. First off, it helps your parent feel loved and cared for. Even a brief phone call lets them know someone is thinking about them. This can be powerfully positive for someone fighting depression. Secondly, it gives you a chance to monitor how they’re doing on an ongoing basis.
3. Create a Social Support System
Depression often sets in after an elderly parent experiences loss or separation of a spouse, friends, family members, or a community. You can help them curb depression by helping to cultivate a social support system. (This is why it’s helpful to go with a nursing home facility that has lots of social activities and organized events.)
4. Help Them Find Meaning and Purpose
A lack of meaning and purpose often goes hand in hand with depression. As soon as an aging parent loses their drive, feelings of hopelessness and apathy follow. You can help your parent regain a strong sense of meaning and worth by giving them something to focus on.
Finding meaning and purpose could be as simple as following a favorite college or professional sports team on TV. Or, it could be as hands-on as starting a side business or heading up a club/organization. The what doesn’t always matter as much as the fact that your parent needs something to pour time and energy into.
5. Consider Treatment Options
While mild depression can often be treated with some simple shifts in mindset, serious cases of depression should only be addressed with the help of a qualified medical professional. If your parent is having advanced and prolonged bouts with depression, make sure they consider any and all treatment options. Don’t let this issue linger any longer without getting help.
Embracing Your Role
It’s time to embrace your evolving role as a caregiver. While this phase of life may not have been in your plans, it’s something that most adult children eventually have to face. View this is an opportunity to honor your parents and their legacy – even if that means dealing with the mess of depression and mental illness.
Lean into this opportunity and, if necessary, lean on others for help.