Our mental health can be affected at any stage of our lives, however, depression is often a concern as we age. It is important to note that anxiety and depression are not a natural part of the ageing process, but due to other factors such as medical conditions, disabilities or isolation, it may occur for some people.
The good news is there are ways to combat these feelings, support your mental health and boost your mood to make your senior years healthy and happy. For too long, mental health has carried a stigma with it, however, if we treat it with daily measures, just as we do for our physical health, we can live optimally.
Signs and symptoms of depression in the elderly
In order to fully recognise the difference between an occasional ‘blue’ mood and lasting depression, it is important to understand the reg flags to look for;
- Loss of interest in socialising or hobbies
- Sadness or feelings of despair
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, loss of purpose)
- Lack of motivation and energy
- Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, daytime sleepiness or oversleeping)
- Slowed movement or speech
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs including excess medications
- Fixation on death or ending own life
- Memory problems
- Neglecting personal care (forgetting to eat, skipping medications, stopping personal hygiene)
Whilst people often associate depression with feelings of sadness, most seniors who suffer from the condition often say that they do not actually feel sad yet complain instead of lack of energy and motivation or even a numbness of feelings. Furthermore, the most common symptoms are usually physical problems such as pain or headaches, which make up a part of the whole picture of depression.
When these feelings and symptoms begin interfering with your life and don’t go away after a few weeks, or if they come back over again in a cycle, it may be a sign you are experiencing depression.
Going through depression or seeing a loved one experience it can be very difficult, but there are some steps you can take that can help. Read on to find out our top self-help tips for depression in the elderly;
Adopt healthy habits
Whilst exercise and healthy eating is possibly the last thing you feel like doing, they can have a major effect on depression. Many people with a low mood often reach for crisps, chocolates or junk food as a way to bring some comfort to their life. However, nutritional research now shows that the food you eat can have a direct impact, positively or negatively, on your mood and levels of happiness.
It’s common knowledge that eating a diet full of processed food, sugar and excess alcohol is damaging to our body. On top of this, the lack of vital nutrients from these types of foods can be responsible for causing further issues and symptoms of some mental health conditions. However, opting for nutrient-dense, whole foods provides the body with vitamins and nutrients needed to make your happy hormones and brain chemicals. Cooking is also an act of self-care and people can often use this as a way to nourish their minds as well as their body.
Studies have shown exercise may reduce depressive symptoms in the elderly and in fact, a more sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate symptoms further. Exercise may seem daunting to some, especially if suffering from pain or depressive symptoms, but starting small and building up to more consistent movement is the key here.
The most important aspect is moving your body – this doesn’t have to include going for a run or lifting weights (unless you enjoy that) but finding natural ways to move. From walking around the local park, doing some housework or even gardening can provide the body with daily movement. Classes such as Tai Chi or Yoga are especially effective as they also provide a mindfulness component.
Connect with others
Often overlooked, yet a major cause of depression in the elderly is isolation and loneliness. Humans are social beings; therefore, it is essential to continue to interact with others on a regular basis.
A great way to do this is by joining a group. This could be a community project, a sports team or even a hobby group. What’s important is finding an activity you enjoy, and you feel motivated by so you will want to continue to attend. If you find it difficult to get out and about, there are Befriending Charities in many towns and cities who aim to match you with another person in order to create friendships. They can pop to your house or offer weekly phone calls to connect regularly with.
To overcome depression once and for all it is important you feel engaged in life and that you have a purpose. As we age, we often suffer loss; loss of people we love but also of the loss of your job, your physical health, your family moving away or other things that occupied your time and gave your life some meaning. Although it is ok to feel sadness for loss, we also must adapt and create a new sense of self-worth.
Volunteering for a cause that is important to you or supporting your local community in some way can be extremely rewarding. Not only are you helping and giving back, but you also have an opportunity to use the skills you have honed in your career.
Know when to ask for help
Whilst trying to take part in acts of self-care such as eating well or joining a community group sounds great on paper, the reality of it for some may be too difficult to face. Reaching out to someone who can help can be the greatest step towards overcoming depression in the elderly. This might be a friend, a family member or even your GP. Open up about your feelings and remember you are not alone.