Warning Signs of Geriatric Depression


For some fortunate enough to be aging in good health, spending much time with loved ones close, avoiding financial burdens and comforted with a spiritual sense of living/dying, the older years really can be golden!

For others, aging sometimes results in the loss of independence and the ability to fully take care for oneself, isolation, ill health, excess stress and various other “side effects.” The result: your aging parents (and maybe you?) may be at risk for depression!

Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of those suffering from this illness will be beneficial for all those involved. But be aware that you will want to share your observations with health professionals and may need their actual interventions to effectively rid your loved ones of their depression.

Here are 6 ways your Aging Parents may be warning you they’re suffering from depression and how you can help.

1. Recognize the Signs: Depression is an illness, not just “being sad.” It has many symptoms which should be examined by a professional in terms of their depth, frequency and breadth. Often affected are: sleep; weight; appetite; sense of hopelessness and/or helplessness; anxiety; tearfulness; no longer being interested in activities that once interested them and more.

2. Sit down, look, ask and listen: Pick a time when you’re not upset or rushed and invite your parents to look at your observation of these disturbing signs, ask them kindly about their fears or concerns, give them a respectful ear and don’t placate them by denying their feelings. Many may not even know they’re depressed, may deny it and don’t understand that depression is commonplace and there is help. Once you’ve gotten your folks talking and found out their concerns, you can gently guide them in the direction of receiving the appropriate available help.

3. Support your aging family members to do all they’re able: Although you may be challenged to sit by and watch your parents struggle with basic everyday routines, recognize the down side of your impatience.  Stepping in and helping them do what they really can do will undoubtedly make them feel they aren’t capable of doing it themselves, likely worsening their depression. On the other hand, discovering the things they’re uniquely capable of doing (gathering family recipes; leading family singing at the piano, like the old days) will help them feeling self-assured and valued.

4. Be Patient: Realizing that your parents are going through a lot right now, and may not seem to appreciate your efforts can help you act more patiently, as you did with your teenagers hopefully when they were transitioning. It’s always good to treat them with patience and that may even help you feel calmer but your patience won’t necessarily pull them out of a depressive episode.  If things become intense, remember this: suicide kills and your best action is to insist patiently and then go with your parents for some professional help.

5. Healthy Diet, People and Exercise: Remember that fresh air and exercise can be very beneficial to those suffering with depression. Your encouragement in getting people outside is likely to be needed. Many who suffer from depression become socially isolated and don’t wish to go out. Do your best to get them to take even small trips outside of their home and help your senior parents to get as much as exercise as they can manage — walking, swimming, bowling, yoga classes can make a big difference.  Similarly encourage your Mom and Dad to incorporate healthy foods into their diet, lower their use of alcohol and cut out foods, drink, habits and people who seem to worsen the symptoms of depression.

6. Watch for Suicidal Warning Signs: If you feel you parents may be suicidal,  go get immediate professional help. If they say things about wanting to die, have a means to do it and are acting depressed, immediately intervene to get them help!!! Dial 911. Seek out a local suicide hot line!!

Do you think your parents may be suffering from depression? Get help from one of our Certified POP Family Coaches who can help you recognize the signs and come up with a personalized plan that will help you and your loved ones.

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