Finally not having to work and getting to relax all day, everyday sounds pretty great right? For many older adults, this stage of life can be very freeing. Socializing with friends at the local community center, baking goodies for the grand kids, watching their favorite shows any time of day, finally taking those trips they always wanted to with their spouse. This is what they call the golden years, but for many this is the most depressing time of their lives. Not every older adult has the desire to do activities at the community center or doesn't have the means to get there. Many have families that live out of state and only get to see their kids and grand kids on birthdays and holidays. Watching television and reading can only entertain for so long, and if a spouse has passed away those long anticipated trips don't seem so exciting anymore.
Detecting depression in older adults by knowing the signs and symptoms ahead of time can be life saving, both physically and emotionally. Common red flags include; sadness, fatigue, reluctance to engage in activities or social interaction,lack of motivation or energy, weight loss or loss of appetite, skipping meals, forgetting or not caring to take medicine properly, neglecting personal hygiene, concentration problems, slow movement and speech not related to an illness, lack of or too much sleep, aggravated pain, loathing, feelings of worthlessness, fixation on death and dying, and feelings of hopelessness. Your loved one is not likely to come to you with any concerns of depression. As they may be embarrassed, do not want to burden you, or they may not even realize it. Depression does not have to go hand in hand with aging, there are many ways you can help.
It is not as simple as telling mom she needs to go make some friends at the community center. Maybe she cannot drive anymore, has physical limitations, has had cognitive decline and is embarrassed or scared to sound "stupid", she could just not feel like herself since dad passed away, or maybe she just does not want to go. Older adults often lose a sense of identity, their kids are grown up, they do not work anymore, they have no real sense of purpose. Ignoring or not listening to what is really going on can be dangerous. So what is the solution? It is important to speak to your doctor as many illnesses and/or their medications may be the cause of depression. Dementia specifically has many similar early warning signs as depression, so it is vital to get appropriate medical attention.
As for what you can do non-medically, it may be as simple as scheduling time with your loved one. They will have something to look forward to and get to see you face to face. There are many things you can do with them such as take a walk, go through old family photos, listen to their stories, if mom is a great cook ask about her recipes, go to community events such as plays, help look into new activities and social groups or just talk. No matter what you do, what is important is that you make sure it is something they want to do, that brings them a sense of purpose and most of all is fun! For many it is not so simple to find extra time between taking care of the kids, after school events, work, spending time with your spouse, cleaning the house, cooking, and so on. Hiring a home care agency can be an amazing benefit to take some weight off of your shoulders. A caregiver can help prepare healthy meals, make sure medication is taken properly, help with household chores, assist with bathing, assist with safe exercises, provide transportation to the community center or a friend's home for a game of cards, and most importantly provide companionship. Home care does not need to be just for those that cannot help themselves, it can be a great way to relieve depression.
Know the signs and take action. Don't let your loved ones golden years be gray.