As I work with families from week-to-week, I can’t help but notice the number of seniors who are suffering from some form of depression.   An unexpected health crisis, followed by rehab and the inability to return home safely, can be a disruptive and daunting reality for just about anyone. As a family member looking on, it is very hard to see a loved one suffer physically, mentally and/or emotionally. 

Depression can affect every aspect of life.  Dealing with depression can be even more difficult knowing they’ve recently lived life with excitement and vigor.  While some depression can be temporary, it’s not usually the case.  Let’s take a look at some of the signs and symptoms to be on the look-out for.

Physical Health
Any sudden illness, accident, surgery or chronic decline in overall health can cause an elderly loved one to lose a sense of purpose and slip into depression.  Other physical problems such as slowed speech, arthritis, severe pain or worsening headaches are often the predominant symptom of depression in the elderly.

Personal Neglect
Another early sign of depression is an obvious lack of attention to their personal care.  Neglecting to bathe/shower, wear clean clothes, take medications or eat a meal can be surefire signs that your loved one is struggling.

Anti-social behavior
Was your loved one once the life of the party, but now you can barely get them to the events? Did they enjoy certain hobbies once, and now have little or no interest in them any longer?  Staying indoors all day and not wanting visitors to come over can be another sign of depression in aging seniors.

Medication Side Effects
Many commonly prescribed medications have multiple side-effects and depression can be one of them.  If they are taking more than one medication, the problem could be compounded.  If you feel you or your loved one’s medication may be adding to their depression, talk to your doctor to see if you can change the dosage or switch to another form.

Sudden Mood swings.  
If your loved one is happy and energetic one minute, but somber and sad the next, there could be an underlying issue, especially if you feel like the change in mood wasn’t really brought on by anything specific.  Keep an eye out for sadness, feelings of despair, unworthiness or being a burden.  Be sure there hasn’t been an increased use of alcohol or other vices and listen for concerns about death and dying or thoughts of suicide.

Small Steps
Whether it’s the loss of independence, health or mobility; whether they’ve lost a loved one, a pet or a familiar home environment, loneliness and depression is quite common.   It is vitally important to help them stay connected and engaged in life activities.  Help them to join a book club, bring a meal and family over, maybe visit a local senior center together and seek outdoor activities.  Small steps can make a big difference.

Get Involved
Whatever you choose to do, get others involved and create a support network.  Remind them how much they are loved and cared for, but do so without smothering them. Be conscious of their need to remain independent. If they can handle their daily tasks, let them, but offer help in areas that makes sense based on their current physical and mental ability.

In general, you do not want to let your loved one suffer or think that they are suffering alone. If you see any signs or symptoms of depression, do not ignore them.   While depression can happen to any of us, learning the signs and being prepared to help a senior cope with life’s changes can make their “Golden Years” a much happier and healthier time.


About the Author
Since 2008, Anthony Black has provided free professional guidance and insight to local seniors and their families who are searching for assisted living, memory care and independent living in Arizona. His hands-on approach and personal attention to the details of each case has helped hundreds of families transition their loved ones to a clean, safe, appropriate living environment.  


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