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As more and more Americans are reaching retirement age, the mental health system and patients' families have had to adapt to the most common disorders occurring in increasingly elderly populations.
Depression is one such disorder that must be approached somewhat differently when the patient is older. By learning how to deal with depression in the elderly, healthcare professionals and family members will be better able to continue care into old age.
There is often a sense that as a person ages, the major health problems they're likely to face change. While this may be true insofar as certain diseases like cardiac problems or stroke tend to afflict older people, it does not mean that depression is any less likely to occur.
If your loved one is exhibiting symptoms of depression, he may indeed be depressed, regardless of age. Loss of appetite, low energy level, or refusal to participate in activities that were once enjoyable are just as valid symptoms of depression in older folks as in the young.
Because older patients have more years of experience behind them, it can be more difficult for them to cope with the loss of mobility or of certain senses like hearing or sight.
The best thing you can do is to acknowledge the importance of these changes for the older person. Make them feel comfortable talking with you about their concerns with getting older, and show that you will help them maintain their independence as long as possible.
Many older persons will not share their negative emotional states with family members. Although their intentions are good ("I don't want to be a burden on my children"), it can make it hard to recognize the signs of depression.
At the same time, however, it may become more difficult for an older man or woman to control the involuntary body movements or gestures that signal anxiety or distress. Look for hand-wringing or an inability to sit still. Either of these can indicate a depressed mental state.
Insisting that your loved is depressed and needs to follow your instructions is unlikely to work well, and can lead to feelings of distrust. Instead, focus on the effects depression is having. If the person is having difficulty sleeping, for example, use that to suggest ways of dealing with underlying anxieties.
Depression is a disease, as sure as lung cancer or heart disease. Don't trivialize what your loved one is going through. Getting through depression is difficult work, and won't be made easier if family members make the person feel guilty about not maintaining a positive attitude.
It is a natural response to try to help a depressed person do all the things they may seem to be having trouble with. Resist this urge, though. When you do things for a depressed person, it can reinforce their beliefs in their own worthlessness. Instead, help them stay organized and make it as easy as possible for them to do things themselves.
Ultimately, family members are the best line of defense for depression. By paying attention and knowing, in advance, how to deal with depression in the elderly, you will be educated enough to play an active role in the patient's care and recovery.
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