Depression, the invisible enemy of our grandparents. How can we care for them?
The image of our grandparents awakens in each of us a pleasant feeling of “home” and, no doubt, they have planted in us human values that we carry on, as we live our own lives. By virtue of this priceless legacy, we also owe it to ourselves to take care of them when the vagaries of age begin to manifest themselves, and one of them is depression.
The most common causes of depression among the elderly
Depression does not follow rules. It does not affect people according to age, time, or weather. However, there are some situations that can increase the risk of depression in the elderly:
- Aging – most often, aging is accompanied by a weakening of the body. If we add to this the existence of one or more chronic diseases, it will be quite difficult for the elderly to have a positive attitude;
- Retirement – cessation of work and a familiar routine can affect the daily life of your loved one. Moreover, for the elderly who worked for 20-30 years in one place, co-workers became close;
- Losing your life partner will leave deep scars and can trigger depression. If the state of sadness persists far too long and specific manifestations occur (see below), there is a higher risk of depression;
- Some medications – depression can sometimes occur as a side effect of some medications or combinations thereof. Therefore, it is important for the family and the patient to keep in close contact with the attending physician or family doctor in order to catch these possible side effects in advance.
In addition to the common causes of depression, there are a number of things that can increase the likelihood of getting sick. These include a higher incidence among women over 65, lack of support from a group of friends, a stressful life, the existence of a disease that affects self-image, heredity, chronic pain, alcohol abuse, and fear of death.
How can we recognize the signs of depression in the elderly dear to us?
Depression has a number of signs that reveal it especially in front of people close to the elderly. Relatives, friends, or even neighbors are the first to notice a change in behavior or mood. Below are some other signs that often occur among seniors with depression:
- A state of sadness and apathy;
- The absence of joy in the activities that delighted them some time ago;
- Loss of appetite or overeating;
- Loneliness and the feeling of uselessness;
- The feeling of exclusion from children’s lives;
- Withdrawal from family activities or community of friends;
- Reduction or lack of motivation to do daily activities;
- Difficulty concentrating or memory problems;
- Escape to unhealthy activities (for example, excessive alcohol consumption) to “get rid” of everyday problems;
- Lack of restful sleep or insomnia;
- A general state of fatigue;
- Neglect of hygiene;
- Suicidal thoughts and lack of interest in a treatment that could improve their chronic conditions;
In addition to these signs, it is good to know that many seniors vehemently claim that they are not sad or depressed. However, they end up complaining of unexplained physical pain, digestive problems without a specific cause, worsening headaches, or feelings of mental “emptiness” (lack of emotion).
How to put a diagnostic?
It is good for the family to keep in constant contact with the loved one and to be with them so that, together with the attending physician, a correct diagnosis can be established. In addition to dialogue, the doctor will be able, based on signs of depression and tests, to rule out, if necessary, the condition as a manifestation of other diseases or as a side effect of some drugs.
Other diseases can also be similar to depression, so this should not be overlooked either. Below are some of these conditions:
- Bipolar syndrome – compared to depression, this disease consists of alternating periods of sadness and hopelessness with those of enthusiasm, well-being, and self-confidence;
- Hypothyroidism – in the case of this condition, the thyroid gland does not produce a sufficient amount of hormones. As they are necessary for the normal functioning of the brain, patients with hypothyroidism experience fatigue, problems with concentration, and sadness, all common and depression. Compared to depression, hypothyroidism is also marked by a higher sensitivity to low temperatures, hair loss, and dry skin. The diagnosis is made by a blood test, and the treatment usually involves only one pill a day;
- Type 2 diabetes – the elderly can develop diabetes without realizing it. This can happen if you lose weight fast, feel more tired, or are depressed. There is also the case of apparent depression, which is greatly diminished if the person receives the appropriate treatment for diabetes;
- Chronic fatigue syndrome – is manifested by seemingly exaggerated fatigue, without a specific cause. In addition to lethargy, the person may experience muscle aches and problems with concentration and insomnia, common symptoms, and depression. There is, however, a major difference between the two. If in the case of depression, our loved ones are physically tired and not interested in activities that they enjoyed, for those with chronic fatigue syndrome there is physical exhaustion, but the desire to participate does not disappear, despite the lack of energy;
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – is another condition that can be confused with depression. The two have in common the problems of concentration, avoiding activities that they enjoyed, the feeling of distance from others, and negative thoughts. The main difference is that PTSD occurs as a result of a traumatic event that has occurred in the last six months.
How can we help our loved ones get through this experience more easily?
Older people may find it difficult to talk about their mood, as many of them have grown up in environments where mental health problems such as anxiety or depression are seen as a sign of weakness.
In addition, many people have gone through countless problems and see depression, although they do not have a name for it, as something they have to endure without complaining and asking for help. I also do not see the worries and sadness specific to depression as well as diseases considered “serious”, such as cardiovascular disease or arthritis, for example. On the other hand, a new path to the doctor means new worries and new medications that add to the treatments that many of them are already following.
It is good for the loved one to be treated with respect, and depression, with a proactive attitude and aimed at reducing the manifestations of the disease. Here are some ways you can help your loved one get through this experience more easily:
- Keep calm – it is natural to be concerned about the mental health of your loved one, but it is important to maintain a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere during each visit. Avoid blaming or losing your patience. This approach will only make matters worse and increase the distance between you and your loved one. Instead, encourage her to be open and talk about what she is feeling or what is bothering her. Gently convey to her that you are with her, that you will not force her to reveal herself, but if she does, you will not judge her;
- Give them your time. Loneliness is a major factor in depression. Give your loved one attention and love. Talk to family members or close friends and encourage them to spend time with enjoyable activities. You can make them responsible in various ways, such as: taking their children to school twice a week or visiting their friends;
- Help to prepare meals – lack of appetite can be another common symptom of depression. This can lead to weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, and even aggravation of existing conditions. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that your loved one receives the food they need. In addition, meal preparation can be a new opportunity to spend time together;
- Give them something to do – retired loved ones, especially those living alone, do not have a variety of activities. Encourage them to return to a youthful hobby or return to what they really enjoyed before devoting themselves entirely to family care and fulfilling their professional role;
- Encourage physical activity – even short walks to the market can help maintain physical health, but especially the management of mental turmoil and emotions;
- Children and close relatives do not play the role of therapist. Therefore, it is advisable to seek specialized help and encourage the elderly to follow the recommended treatment;
- Make sure that this treatment is followed according to the doctor’s instructions. The person in question, against the background of the gloomy image of the world, may believe that drugs and therapy will not work.
Recommendations for the elderly
- Following a few tips can help seniors recover from sadness and regain well-being. Gently recommend them:
- Get enough rest – there is a direct link between lack of sleep and worsening symptoms of depression. To avoid this, it is good for the elderly to rest for at least 7-8 hours a night;
- To spend time with things they once enjoyed – even if they don’t have the mood, it’s good to get involved in fun activities. Encourage your grandparents in your life to watch comedies or read relaxing volumes, to rediscover talents they forgot about over time, but which defined them and helped them to find themselves;
- Avoid drinking alcohol;
- Keep close photos with loved ones;
- Engage in gardening or other physical activities around the home, if the elderly person stays at home;
- Learning new things – whether it’s a musical instrument, a foreign language, or using the phone to see your grandchildren, learning can bring joy to life;
- Pay attention to appearance – with retirement, our grandparents may no longer feel the need to be arranged on all fours every day. However, a little effort every morning helps self-esteem;
- Pay attention to your daily diet – it is recommended that older people living with depression consume less sugar and refined carbohydrates and focus on protein from chicken, turkey, or fish, vitamins and minerals from fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, and seeds. In addition to the main meals of the day, 2-3 snacks are also indicated.
Even if in our families it happened that this unwelcome guest knocked on the door, it is important to be able to spend together the days when she is our guest in the best possible way. The difficult times we go through bring with them new meanings that we discover, and this condition is no exception. On the contrary, we can see that it brings us closer to our loved ones and helps us to reform relationships whose fragility we were no longer so aware of. Through teamwork with the elderly in our lives who live depression, with attention, openness, and communication, it is possible to discover that this experience is nothing but a chance to be together again this time with our grandparents.