Many people think that some degree of depression and anxiety are a normal part of aging. While it’s true that temporary sadness and anxiety are a component of all stages of life, depression and serious anxiety are not. This is why identifying and treating your senior loved one’s depression or anxiety is not only important for their own health but also helpful in giving them a better quality of life and making them feel more comfortable about aging overall.
How to Identify Depression in Seniors
Older people with depression may have different symptoms than younger people with depression, and are less likely to talk about their feelings. You may also confuse symptoms of depression for symptoms of your elder loved one’s other conditions, like Alzheimer’s.
Here are key symptoms that may indicate depression in seniors:
- Loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
- Loss of interest in socializing and visits
- Feelings of despair, emptiness or hopelessness
- Overeating or under-eating
- Skipping meals, losing weight
- Talking about death, feelings of suicide
- Poor hygiene, wearing the same clothing
- Unexplained fatigue
- Medication errors
- Abuse of alcohol or other substances
- Difficulty making decisions and remembering things
It’s also possible that your senior loved one’s conditions or medications may cause or increase depressive symptoms. If you suspect your loved one has depression, a doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist can help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of troubling behavior.
How to Identify Anxiety in Seniors
Your senior loved one may experience depression and anxiety at the same time, or they may not. Even on its own, anxiety is a serious condition that can drastically reduce your loved one’s quality of life. Research suggests that anxiety is four to eight times more common than major depressive disorder, but may be harder to recognize.
Anxiety disorders are hard to differentiate from other medical problems common in seniors, so it is essential that you get a doctor or mental health care professional’s help to determine your senior loved one’s diagnosis.
That being said, symptoms of anxiety disorders can include:
- Fear, panic, or uneasiness
- Jitters, inability to stay still
- Shortness of breath
- Pain the chest
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
- Trouble sleeping
- Sensations in the hands and feet: cold, sweat, numbness, tingling
Seniors may develop these symptoms in response to the challenges of aging, from new health conditions to fears about falling or dying. However, anxiety is not a natural consequence of aging and can be treated.
Managing Depression in Your Loved One
If you suspect your senior loved one has depression, your first step should be to speak with their family doctor. Their doctor can assess their depressive symptoms and create a personalized plan for treatment. That plan can include medications and/or therapy. Their doctor will also check for vascular depression, which is depression caused by reduced blood flow and common in older adults.
Aside from the treatment plan that your doctor and your loved one decide on, there are things you can do to help your loved one manage their depression.
Consider the following:
- Schedule group outings
- Encourage a balanced diet
- Help your senior get exercise
- Reduce alcohol, nicotine, and other substance use
- Encourage mindfulness-based techniques
Whatever you choose to do, be patient. Research demonstrates that it takes longer for seniors to respond to treatment for depression than it takes younger people. However, once they do start to respond, seniors recover as well as younger people do.
Managing Anxiety in Your Loved One
There are also a range of options available for your senior loved one who suffers from anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, your first stop should be your loved one’s family physician, who can offer medication and recommendations for therapy.
You may also have success encouraging your loved one to make lifestyle changes that can help quell their anxiety.
Consider these lifestyle changes:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Get regular, gentle exercise
- Engage in social activities
- Use relaxation techniques
- Reduce stimulant use, like caffeine
- Try meditation and mindfulness techniques
There may also be changes you can make to your loved one’s environment to help them deal with anxiety. For example, if they get anxious that they will fall and hurt themselves, you can increase fall safety in their home or space, by installing handrails, moving clutter, and installing non-slip features.
Managing Anxiety and Depression for the Long Term
Managing your senior loved one’s depression or anxiety will likely get significantly easier with time. Research demonstrates that medication, therapy and lifestyle treatments are effective for seniors. In the meantime, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to extend your support and patience.