Understanding Depression and Anxiety in the Elderly
Anxiety in Old Age
Depression can occur in anyone of any age, irrespective of your background or how stressful your life history is.
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, absence of caring and supportive communal network, have medical problems, or they may expect more than what their loved ones can provide.
A depressed elderly person may not want to see anyone or even take his or her prescribed medication. They may also refuse to eat and do anything except just stay in bed. These will just make the depression worse.
Signs of Depression in Older Adults
Most of the time, it is difficult for you to know if the elderly is suffering from depression or otherwise. They may be on medication or suffering from existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer or strokes, which you may interpret as the cause of their anxiety and not symptoms of depression.
They will not tell you of their problem, as they do not want to burden you. Therefore, by the time you come to know of this, 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.
- 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 with these mood disorders esp. among the elderly.
Helping the Elderly with Depression
There are several options you can try to help elderly with depression. Some people may go for prescribed medication, which 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 alternative non-medicinal approach. As each person is different, try various approaches if one does not work. 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 will help 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
Although I did mention earlier that medication should be the last resort, please check with your doctor if taking alternative herbal remedies will have any side effects on any existing medication that your loved one are now taking. Do take note of the comment below,;as some herbal remedies can interfere with prescribe medication.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies have shown that taking both omega-3's and antidepressants can be more helpful than then taking antidepressants on its own. Take it before meals.
- St. John's Wort: Used traditionally as treatment for anxiety, sadness and nervousness, St. John’s Wort can be effective antidepressants 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 depletes 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. Include brown rice in their diet.
10. Oxygen Therapy
Oxygen therapy involved breathing in a concentrated form of oxygen that claimed to help alleviate depression. It will improve blood circulation sending energizing oxygen to the muscles and brain and this will give new strength to their body and mind. Seek medical advice before you decide on this option.
11. Sunshine Therapy
Studies have shown that natural sunlight will help people with depression. Take them out for a walk or have drinks outside to benefit from the sunshine. This is a simple and fun way to enjoy with your loved one.
12. Laughter Therapy
As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. Therefore, as a good therapy for depression in the elderly, let them listen to comedy show or get them to watch good comedies. The old Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin movies could be 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 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 is quite often due to this imbalance and having acupuncture will put the body back into balance. Choose a well-trained and qualified practitioner when trying this option for an elderly with depression.
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 do provide a positive link to 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 we do not properly monitor and check 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.
Therefore, our role as a caring parent to our children as well as to our own parents or grandparents, are huge responsibilities and some may not be able to cope with these. There are support groups, caregivers and free counseling centers that can come in and provide us with assistance. Check the local directories for their address or check on-line 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