It’s inevitable; the longer we live, the more loss we will experience. It could be the loss of loved ones, the loss of health, independence, or the loss of a feeling of purpose in life. Grieving over these losses is completely healthy and normal. The symptoms of grief can be described in five stages, the first being denial, disbelief or numbness. The second, anger and blaming others. The third, bargaining. For example, “If I am cured of this cancer, I will never smoke again.” The fourth is a depressed mood, sadness and crying. The final stage is acceptance and coming to terms with the loss. Not everyone experiences all these emotions when coping with loss, and it’s possible for the stages of grief to last a year or more. But when a person has lost all hope and joy in life, they may be suffering from clinical depression.
It can be difficult to recognize the signs of depression amongst the elderly because symptoms of grief, side effects of medications, and symptoms of chronic illnesses can all resemble the symptoms of depression, causing depression to go unnoticed and untreated. Assuming depressive symptoms are caused by another underlying problem can be detrimental to your loved ones health. Depression can increase a person’s risk of cardiac disease and their risk of death following a heart attack. Depression also reduces a person’s ability to rehabilitate and can impact their sleep, energy and appetite.
Overcoming depression can involve finding new things to enjoy, staying physically and socially active and feeling connected to loved ones. Medication and/or counseling may also be helpful. As a caregiver, loved one or friend of a depressed senior, consider scheduling regular social activities for them, take them out to do things they enjoy, prepare them healthy meals, be emotionally supportive by listening to them with compassion and without judgment, and encourage the person to follow through with treatment.
Although depression amongst the elderly is common, it is not normal. If you believe you or your loved one is suffering with depression, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Several web-sites offer on-line depression screening tests, one being www.depression-screening.org provided by the National Mental Health Association. Take this test with you to your doctor to begin the conversation about your concerns.