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How to recognise depression in aging loved ones

Your Life
Sunday 01 October 2017
Mental health conditions such as depression can affect people at any stage of their life. There are a lot of different things which cause depression, and older people can find that underlying mental health concerns are exacerbated by events such as the loss of a spouse, or the feelings of disempowerment which can come from deteriorating physical health.

Recognising the signs can be an important first step towards helping a loved one get better. While many of the symptoms are regardless of age, depression can also manifest in new ways as a person gets older. 

Here are some of the most important things to make yourself aware of:


Common signs of depression

These are common symptoms which can often indicate that a person is depressed. They may be a sign that you need to have an open conversation with your loved one or assist them in seeking help.
  • Depleted energy and a loss of motivation
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and sadness - although many older people report a 'flat' mood rather than a strong feeling of sadness
  • A fixation on death or suicide
  • Loss of interest in things which previously brought pleasure
  • Feelings of worthlessness or being a burden
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • A neglect of personal care and hygiene
  • Memory problems

This list is not exhaustive, however it does show some of the most common symptoms. You may also notice that many of these symptoms can be similar to those found in Alzheimer’s patients. One important difference to be aware of is the fact that people with depression will typically be concerned about, or at least aware of, any memory problems they are having. And, while they may have trouble staying focused and slower with language and motor skills, they won’t be completely disorientated or find that those abilities are completely impaired.


Times to be on the look out

There are certain events and situations that can make an older person more susceptible to depression, including the following.
  • Certain medical conditions including heart disease, Parkinson’s, cancer, diabetes, B12 deficiency and lupus. In general, chronic and debilitating illness can put a person at greater risk of depression.
  • Isolation, especially after loss of a partner. While grief is normal and healthy, the constant low mood of depression differs from the fluctuating mood of a person who is grieving. Becoming disconnected from others can also worsen the symptoms for a person who is already depressed.
  • The use of certain medications has also been linked to depression; as elderly people are often put on a number of different medications to combat health concerns it may be worth making yourself aware of the related side effects.
Remember – the low mood and feelings of worthlessness associated with depression are not simply a normal part of getting older; depression is just as serious for older adults as for anyone else. If you do identify the symptoms we’ve listed then it is important to seek professional help.

You also may be able to help your loved one alleviate their symptoms in other ways: proper nutrition and light exercise can both be beneficial – as can contact with other people or, if they are physically able to look after it, contact with a pet.

Keeping the body and mind healthy and active might not stop depression entirely, but can lessen the impact, so these can be a great first step towards helping the person that you care about.
This year, Key Retirement is supporting Mind, for better mental health. If you would like to contribute, follow this link – and remember, this is not medical advice, so if you’re concerned about yourself or somebody else then seek support from a specialist. You can find the details of Mind’s helplines here
Page last updated: Wednesday 07 November 2018