Depression in Elderly: How to Help a Parent

Depression in Elderly: How to Help a Parent

Depression can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender or any other background. While we are still yet to overcome the stigmas attached to this disease, the geriatric population in our country continues to suffer. Lack of awareness also leads to the family feeling helpless and not understanding how to help. Older people are at risk for depression, are underserved by the mental health profession, and have high rates of suicide in the country. But many seniors are resistant to treatment because they don’t want to burden their families or equate depression with weakness or even death. In such cases, it’s the family that has to take the first step and make it easier for the elderly so that they can deal with the situation more efficiently and yield better results. So how can you help your parent or a senior family member going through Depression?


1.Don’t dismiss symptoms

Depression is not normal bereavement or stress. Depression is a disease that affects mood, cognition, appetite, sleep cycle etc. If your parent is not eating for more than a few days or loses interest in activities that used to give her pleasure for more than two weeks, it could be depression.

2.Talk about how they feel

If your father can no longer drive, offering to drive him around or pay for a taxi service won’t necessarily soften the blow.
The elderly are less likely to cope with depression as well as young people because of the added years of meaning behind it.
Caregivers can help by recognizing its significance: Ask your elderly parent what they feel. It’s really important to hear them out and honor their emotions. Listening offers direct comfort and support.


3.Look for subtle signs

Older adults often say, ‘I am not sad,’ or ‘I am not lonely,’ because they don’t want to be a burden on the family.
Instead, they show signs of distress by wringing their hands excessively, getting agitated or irritable, or having difficulty sitting still. Looking and identifying such signs will be beneficial to get help sooner.

4.Don’t impose your terminology

For the person who says, ‘No, I am not depressed,’  listen closely to what has changed in their life.
For example, if they say they can’t sleep, use that as a hook to discuss ideas about how to sleep better or longer.
It is also recommended not to say the words ‘depression,’ ‘drugs,’ or ‘therapy’ if an older adult doesn’t buy into the idea that they need help. That will make them upset or even worse might create panic.

5.Recognize that depression is an illness

Family members should be aware of the disability that depression can cause and should avoid making depressed parents or relatives feel guilty by telling them to get out more or pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Researching and reading about it will help you become more aware and prepared to deal with it.


6.Don’t take over a person’s life

The most important thing for a caregiver to do is not to try to do things for older people that they can do for themselves. Doing things for a depressed person is often not helpful at all because it reinforces their perception that they are worthless and incapable. Instead, help them break tasks into steps and praise them for any efforts.

7.Try to participate in medical care

Because of confidentiality laws, geriatric psychologists can’t disclose information to families without their patient’s permission.  Many older people do give the permission and If they don’t, family members can always call and let the concerned professional know what they are seeing, and it is helpful when they do.
Lastly, remember that old age is similar to childhood. It is fragile and your parents need the same amount of love and thoughtfulness as children. So handle with care.

Sayee Deshpande
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