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Dealing With Your Aging Parent's Depression

Discover the best ways to help your parents with depression. Seniorly explores the warning signs and symptoms of elderly depression.

By Lydia Bruno · Updated Apr 15, 2022
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Many aging parents exhibit signs of depression after retirement, but it is sometimes difficult for adult children to know how to deal with them. They may not want to burden their parents by asking or they may be afraid of what the response will be. For an adult child, it can be difficult to understand the unique experiences their aging parent has had during their life and where they should start when trying to help them feel better. This post offers some helpful tips on how you can best handle your aging adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition and 50% have two or more. Depression is most common in older adults that have two or more health conditions. 

The CDC also explains that depression is not a normal part of getting older. Although older adults are at an increased risk of experiencing depression there are always treatments available. Depression can be so much more than just sadness or “having the blues” for an older adult. It is a real medical condition that is treatable just like asthma or high blood pressure. 

Depression symptoms in older adults

If young parents' depression and offers insight into what might cause this type of emotional distress in older elderly parent is suffering from depression the first step is to help, but you may not be sure how to do so. There are many ways to help such as getting them involved in engaging activities, encouraging exercise, or keeping them social through the use of technology. Another option is to speak to their health care provider and have them provide a treatment plan for your loved one’s depression. 

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, many older adults are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed because depression doesn’t always just mean sadness. They may have other symptoms such as:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Lack of self-care
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Loss of appetite and/or unintended weight loss
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Many times signs of depression go untreated because the symptoms of depression mimic other medical conditions or health issues as well as a normal part of aging. Many families of the elderly don’t realize that some of the symptoms their loved one might be facing is in fact depression. People often mistake the symptoms of depression as other medical conditions such as:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Stroke

If you feel your loved one is facing these challenges, seek out medical advice and professional help from their health care providers right away to find out what the best treatment options are.

How to treat depression

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 80% of older people suffering from depression can be effectively treated. There are several options available to help those that suffer like therapy, medications, being around peers, and alternative therapies. These options can help your loved one live a better quality of life.

Antidepressant medications and therapy both can be very beneficial in treating symptoms of depression. They are both frequently combined together to improve their effectiveness. Research has shown that a person with depression may need to try more than one medication to get the preferred results.

The best way to address depression with your elderly parents

If you feel that your loved one is exhibiting any signs and symptoms of depression it is important to speak to them about how they are feeling. Their generation may feel a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and speaking out about it.  Whether it is you or family caregivers, encourage your loved ones to express how they are feeling and let them know it is ok to feel how they are feeling. Let them know that there is nothing wrong with feeling this way and that you are not there to judge, but to listen.

10 ways to deal with your aging parent’s depression

There could be many reasons why your loved one might be suffering from depression. It can vary from hereditary to their surroundings and circumstances. Later in life events can take a toll on any elderly person. Whether they have lost a loved one or they can no longer participate in events due to failing health, depression is real. 

Depression is a very common mental illness that can have serious impacts on individuals, their family members, and friends. Early recognition of symptoms combined with treatment may help prevent or lessen these consequences.

We understand that this is a tough time for your family, so we have compiled 10 tips to help you deal with the depression that your parents may be experiencing. Here are some ways to help your aging parent deal with depression:

  1. Keep routines going. If you are able to keep a routine schedule of daily activities for your loved one this may be the best thing to help stabilize their mood.  Most seniors can get very upset with change and intense reactions may happen because of this variance in schedule. Having a daily routine can help seniors feel like they are maintaining control over their own life.   
  2. Maintain connections. Using technology can make a huge difference in your loved one’s mood by allowing them to connect with loved ones, family, and friends from the comfort of their own home or even at a senior center.  Having social interaction is an important thing for a senior’s emotional health so they don’t feel any feelings of isolation or sadness. 
  3. Encourage exercise. Staying active with physical activity can ward off feelings of sadness and isolation. Taking a daily walk or going out to be social can make a world of difference for someone who is at home and feels isolated from the world around them, not to mention exercise produces more serotonin in the brain and exercise is good for your health in general.  There are many benefits of exercise such as joy, contentment, and well-being.
  4. Check for medication side effects. Some medications may have side effects that mimic depression. Talk to your loved one’s medical team to find out if this is the case and if they have any underlying health problems. If so, then changing medications may be in order to help your parent’s mental health and medical problems.
  5. Stay social. Make sure to call or visit every day, bring the grandkids when you can, or even have their friends over for a visit. Social interactions are an important part of keeping your loved one’s mental health positive. Don’t let boredom set in as that may make your parents feel like they don’t have any real purpose in life.
  6. Listen to their feelings. If your parents are in a place of despair, sometimes listening to them and their concerns can go a long way. You can become their partner in seeking out the correct medical treatment and you can encourage them along the way to find a healthcare provider and proper treatment.
  7. Create a calming environment. Make sure your loved one has their beloved possessions around them that will help them feel better and more comfortable with their surroundings. In the winter make sure they have enough light and maybe add in a diffuser with a calming scent like lavender, which can elevate their mood.
  8. Give them positive reinforcement. Sometimes when people have depression they think negatively of themselves. Reinforce how much they are loved, appreciated, and how much they mean to you. If your loved one needs more support consider finding support groups or talk therapy, such as psychotherapy to help with their feelings. 
  9. Stay positive. Make sure to keep a positive attitude around your senior loved ones and continue to be their support system.  This helps them not to absorb any needless negativity, stress, or anxiety. Be patient and don't give up on your parents. Sometimes depression can last months, even years after it starts. Don’t let yourself get discouraged just because you haven't seen any improvements after six months or a year. Keep trying to get them involved in activities and socializing, just be patient for improvement.
  10. Encourage treatment. If your parents are going to treatment for depression, encourage them to stay the course and recognize all the improvements they are seeing in their lives just by putting in the work for recovery. Continue to encourage them to take their medications, maintain their physical health, and work with their doctors and mental health professionals. 
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written by:
Lydia Bruno
written by:

Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno is a Copywriter for Seniorly based out of Chicago, IL.
View other articles written by Lydia

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