It is the holiday season and many greet the New Year with the joy of family getting together, the opportunity to worship as a community and the chance to both review the year past and think about the year to come. For some, however, holidays can bring up complicated and difficult emotions and be triggers for depression.
Older adults are often at risk for depression because of the inevitable changes and losses they have experienced in life. Some have lost spouses, siblings, children and friends. Retirement creates a very different environment and sense of identity and worth. And, of course, physical and cognitive declines can lead to limitations in ability and loss of independence. Depression, unfortunately, often follows.
What Are the Signs?
An older adult who is experiencing depression may show sadness or they may seem “tired all the time,” with a lack of energy to do things and participate in their lives. They may lose interest in everything, including things that have always been important to them. Weight loss and sleep issues can also be indicators that the individual is depressed. Listening closely to them can also help clue us in, for example if suicide or wishing for end of life comes up in conversation, even casually, merits attention.
Not every sign of depression is quite so clear. Changes in behavior or mood, decreased energy level and interest and increased anxiety may also signal us to watch more closely and, if necessary, act.
What Can We Do to Help?
Like so many things, if we see something, we need to say something. A full medical assessment is often the place to start. Depression can be purely psychological but can also be caused, or exacerbated, by medical conditions such as heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and more. It may be that the older adult is taking medication that is fueling their depression or that they are abusing substances and that creates a trigger. Again, medical attention can make the difference and improve quality of life.
Other things that can help with depression include social interactions, making sure that the older adult has social connections and outlets. Exercise has also been shown to have a positive effect and can be as powerful, in some cases, as anti-depressants. Sleep, a healthy diet and ongoing mental stimulation can all help.
Depression silently steals both quality of life and then life itself. Being aware can make a difference.