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       Volume I - March 16, 2009

Seniors and Depression
by Alice Osborne & Patty Liston

We have spoken before about some of the effects of depression, but today we will deal with depression and the elderly. Being part of the “sandwich generation”, we have both dealt with this difficult issue. We also hear from others who are trying to give the necessary emotional support to parents who are facing new challenges. This is often new territory for everyone involved so below is some information we thought may be useful to you.

Recognizing Types of Depression

Situational Unhappiness: as a result of death, disease, moving to senior living home, etc.

Clinical Depression: when feelings of sadness and despair continue over a course of time, and no joy is present.

The latter carries warning signs with it, such as lack of care in appearance, continual complaints of illness, aches and pains, social withdrawal, sleeplessness and other uncharacteristic behavior.

Most seniors do not recognize depression, and will not talk about it even if you try to bring it up with casual questions; Are you sleeping alright? Would you like to take a bath? When was the last time you were happy? Remember, most seniors are survivors of “the greatest generation”, when one pulled himself up by the bootstraps and moved on. Also, in the “old days” depression was a taboo subject with many being put away in an asylum for lack of understanding.

If you think depression may be an issue:

1. Encourage your loved one to visit a doctor. Reassure them that depression is easily treated. If they are too embarrassed, let them know that the doctor/patient visit is confidential and no one will know the reason for the doctor’s visit.
2. If he/she refuses your overtures, seek help from family members, a trusted friend, or family doctor. Our parents still hold their doctors in esteem and will often listen to them when they won’t listen to anyone else. When Patty and her siblings were uncomfortable with their parent’s driving, they enlisted the help of their family doctor. After a very sweet talk by the doctor, the parents relinquished their driver’s licenses to him.
3. If none of this works, there is not much you can do unless they become suicidal or the depression becomes so severe that they refuse to eat or drink. In such cases, medical intervention will be required.

Some things you can do to help:

1. Many communities have senior centers that provide activities, lunches and little trips around town. Find out what is available and talk with your parent about activities they may want to participate in.

2. If you are working, ask a trusted neighbor or friend to go by occasionally to visit your parent. Such visits need not be long, and will be much appreciated.

3. Encourage the parent to do something of service. We know of an 88 year old woman who knits hats for preemies in the local hospital. Find out what organizations need simple help like phone calling, that your loved one may be able to do.

4. Give them something to look forward to—even if it is a walk around the block every afternoon. The endless days of solitude, after lives lived in full activity, would be overwhelming to any of us.

5. Join a support group. Caring for an aging parent can be exhausting. There is no guilt in needing a break. Talking with other people going through the same situations can be very encouraging.

6. Make sure that they are eating healthy meals, are taking any required medications at the right times and the right dosage, and getting some exercise.

7. Remember that one day you too will be on the receiving end of someone’s kindness. What would you want them to do for you?

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