Help With Depression and Anxiety in the Elderly
Depression in the Elderly
Depression can occur to anyone of any age irrespective of your background or how stressful was your life history.
What Causes Depression in the Elderly
For the elderly, depression can be a common problem. They may be lonely, may have lost their loved ones, financial savings could be running low, the absence of caring and supportive communal network, have medical problems, or they expected more than what their loved ones can provide.
A depressed elderly person may refuse to see anyone or even take their prescribed medication. They may refuse to eat and do anything except to just stay in bed. These will make the depression worse.
Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly
Most of the time it is difficult to know if the elderly are suffering from depression or otherwise. They may be suffering from existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer or strokes and these are anxiety and not symptoms of depression.
They won't tell you their problem so as not to burden you. By the time you come to know of it, it may be too late.
Look out for the following signs that may suggest depression:
- Difficulty doing routine things at home and may withdraw from pursuing their interest in what used to be their favorite pastime, such as gardening.
- The difficulty with their body movement or speech which may be slow and sluggish.
- They may indicate or give signs of being disheartened, useless or insignificant. They think that they will be a burden.
- They may harbor thoughts of suicide.
- They may have problem sleeping or falling asleep.
- Loss of appetite, eat very little and failed to take care of personal hygiene.
- They may start to drink more.
- They may be impatient, irritable and have memory problems.
Robin William's Suicide
Robin William, the American actor best known for his roles in the television series "Mork and Mindy" was found dead on Aug. 11, 2014.
His death by suicide has raised public awareness and discussions on depression.
Aging and Stress
According to Dr. John Greden, the executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center and founding chairman of the National Network of Depression Centers, 1 in 6 Americans has bipolar illnesses and lifetime depressions. And about 75 to 80 percent of deaths by suicide can be linked to these mood disorders esp. among the elderly.
Helping the Elderly with Depression
There are several options to help elderly with depression. Some people may go for prescribed medication but this should be the last resort unless it is already a severe case. Check with your doctor on this matter.
Noninvasive Ways to Treat Anxiety in the Elderly
The following suggestions look at the alternative non-medicinal approach. As each person is different, try various approaches to see which works best. Continue to do so until you find the right one.
Talk to them and listen. Listening can encourage them to pour out their problems and give them comfort. Listen attentively and do not pass any judgment or offer advice. Just listen because that is what they want at that moment.
2. Pet Therapy
Give them something to care for, like a pet dog. This will also give them something to look forward to, which is good as a psychological and physical relief. Pets will also give the elderly the needed companionship.
3. Recognize Their Problem
Depression is a serious matter and accepts it as a form of illness or disability. Do not expect your elders to just buck-up and be themselves again the next moment. Help to tackle their problem by breaking it into smaller tasks and steps so that they easily handle them.
Reduce salt in their diet as elderly people are sensitive to sodium intake. This will help lower their stress or hypertension level, which is one of the key issues in depression. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as these will worsen and dampen their mood. Likewise, foods high in fat and sugar can also aggravate their mood.
Sometimes having children around can lift their mood, especially if it is their grandchildren. In some cases this may not work. It might even be stressful and increase their hypertension level. So, assess the situation and see which work best.
6. Mild exercise
Keeping the elderly occupied both in mind and body will help lift them out of their depression. Go for a walk, go shopping for groceries together, go to the movies, have lunch or tea at their favorite restaurant or anything that they used to enjoy. You may get the initial rejection to all these ideas but try to be gently firm.
7. Regular Visit
Nothing is more exciting that to anticipate the next visit. Arrange and schedule regular visits among family members and friends if you cannot make it on a regular basis. This visit is therapeutic as it helps fight loneliness and isolation especially to an elder that is already suffering from depression.
8. Herbal Remedies
Please check with your doctor if taking alternative herbal remedies will not have any side effects on any existing medication that they are now taking.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies shown that taking both omega-3's and antidepressants can be more helpful than taking antidepressants on its own. Take it before meals.
- St. John's Wort: Used traditionally as a treatment for anxiety, sadness, and nervousness, St. John’s Wort can be an effective antidepressant if they have mild or moderate depression. Do not take together with prescribed or over-the-counter anti-depressants as it may interfere with its effectiveness.
- Magnesium: As stress will deplete magnesium, take food rich in magnesium such as green vegetables or whole grains. Alternatively, take magnesium supplements.
- Folic acid: Taking folic acid and vitamin B12 will also help improve the effectiveness of their anti-depressant medication. Cabbage, whole grain oats and brewer’s yeast are rich in folic acid.
9. Brown Rice
Brown rice is rich in vitamins B1, B3, and folic acid. It will also release glucose gradually into the bloodstream, which will prevent any mood swings. So, include brown rice in their diet.
10. Oxygen Therapy
Oxygen therapy involved breathing in a concentrated form of oxygen and studies show that it helps alleviate depression. It improves blood circulation; sending energizing oxygen to the muscles and brain and this gives new strength to their body and mind. Seek medical advice before you decide on this option.
11. Sunshine Therapy
Studies showed that natural sunlight helps people with depression. Exposure to sunlight will trigger the release of serotonin, a hormone that boosts mood by relieving stressful feelings and make you feel calm and focused.
So, take them out for a walk or have drinks outside to benefit from the sunshine exposure. This is a simple and fun way to brightens the mood.
12. Laughter Therapy
As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. When you laugh, the body releases the feel-good hormone, endorphins. This chemical gives the overall sense of well-being, reduce stress, and can even temporarily relieve pain.
As a good therapy for depression in the elderly, let them listen to a comedy show or watch good comedies. The old Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin movies are possible choices.
13. Reading Story Book
Nothing will excite the elderly more than to hear a child reads to them or even hearing a child’s voice. Arrange for your children to take the turn to read storybooks or newspaper articles to their grandparents. Alternatively, you can try a product that let you record the reading and have it sent to them. It is like a greeting card with sound. The moment they open the card, they will hear the story read by their loved one.
14. Sessions With a Psychoanalyst
There may be issues that an elderly person might not feel comfortable to talk of, to family members or friends. This is when having session with a psychoanalyst will help.
Acupuncture is about ying and yang and striking the right balance. Depression can be due to this imbalance and by having acupuncture will put the body back into balance. Choose a well-trained and qualified practitioner for this option.
16. Massage Therapy
A feel good factor is missing in anyone that is depressed. Massage, if properly administered, will enhance this feeling of wellbeing. Massage will also release neurotransmitters serotonin and endorphins that are responsible for the feel good and feeling of calmness for the body. It will also lower the stress hormone.
To some, being close to their spiritual and religious beliefs does provide a positive link between a stable and good mental health. If this is the case, provide whatever support you can to give access to these services.
Lastly, if they are already on medication and undergoing therapy or treatment, ensure these are taken and to follow through with the treatment.
It is our responsibility to care for our elderly parents or grandparents irrespective of the situation. Depression in the elderly if not properly monitored and checked in the initial stage, can lead to more problems later.
It is also our responsibility to look out for our children, especially our teenage children. Depression among teenagers is on the increase and in some cases, it has led to suicide.
Our role as a caring parent to our children as well as to our own parents or grandparents are huge responsibilities and some are unable to cope with these. There are support groups, caregivers and free counseling centers that can come in and provide you with assistance. Check the local directories for their address or check online for detail of their services.
Resources and References
- US National Library of Medicine: Folate, vitamin B12, and homocysteine in major depressive disorder
- GoodTherapy.org: Religion and Depression
- American Psychology Association: depression and Suicide in Older Adults
- World Health Organisation
- US National Library of Medicine: Elderly Patients with Schizophrenia and Depression: Treatment
© 2012 Mazlan