How to Treat Depression in the Elderly

Three Parts:Treating Bodily ProblemsIncreasing Emotional SupportExploring Medical/Psychological Treatment Methods

The elderly can experience depression like any other age group, yet may encounter difficulties that other age groups may not. While you may think depression is the natural result of aging, if untreated it can contribute to illness, cardiac diseases, and prolong rehabilitation.[1] Especially in the elderly, physical symptoms such as chronic pain, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dementia and cancer increase the risk of depression.[2]

Part 1
Treating Bodily Problems

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    Assess the risk of suicide. The elderly are at greater risk of suicide, and depression can increase the likelihood of suicide.[3] Look out for the following warning signs of suicide:[4]
    • Talking about wanting to kill oneself
    • Talking about being a burden on family or friends
    • Expressing feelings of not wanting to live, feeling hopeless
    • Giving possessions away
    • Talking about being in unbearable pain or suffering
    • Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
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    Recognize bodily symptoms as contributing to depression. Older adults may never complain of feeling sad. Instead, they may complain of bodily symptoms related to depression, such as lethargy, low motivation, and physical problems such as arthritis.[5]
    • You may not realize that bodily aches and unexplained pains can indicate symptoms of depression.
    • As aging occurs, older adults may lose mobility and functions like driving. They may develop disabilities. Declining bodily function may contribute to symptoms of depression.[6]
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    Treat insomnia. Insomnia appears to be a large factor in depression, and insomnia is a common problem in aging adults. One treatment method for insomnia includes using relaxation exercises before bed to create calm in your mind and body.[7] Try relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or meditation.
    • Some people use prescription drugs for sleep problems, which can be obtained through a medical practitioner. You can also use over-the-counter effective alternatives, such a melatonin.[8]
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    Talk to a medical provider. If you experience pain or body aches, talk to a medical provider. You may need medication or other treatment to help you cope with pain or increase functioning within your body. You can discuss any adverse side effects of medication, pain, aches, or other physical symptoms with your medical practitioner.
    • Conditions like back pain affect many elderly people.[9] Even if you don’t want medications, discuss treatment options with your medical provider.
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    Avoid alcohol. Don’t turn to alcohol as a way to cope with emotional or physical pain. Alcohol can contribute to sleeping problems, interact negatively with prescription medication, increase feelings of depression, and encourage risky behavior.[10] While it may provide a temporary relief from stress, physical pain or emotional hurt, the problems you have will be waiting for you once the alcohol is gone.

Part 2
Increasing Emotional Support

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    Engage social support.[11] Many older adults feel lonely and isolated. If living in a nursing facility or alone, they may feel distant or cut off from friends and family. Social contact is a major factor that contributes to preventing and recovering from depression.[12] Being close to loved ones can make a huge difference in one’s overall well-being.
    • If family lives far away, consider staying connected through the phone or through video calling online.
    • Connect with other elderly people and make friends. Create activities to do together such as sharing dinner or watching a movie together.
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    Discover a sense of purpose.[13] Some elderly people may feel like they have no reason to live. They have see their identity as being a mother or father, or as a career-person. Now that the kids are grown and they are retired, it may feel like there is no sense of purpose. Instead of having a role to fill, choose your own role that you want.
    • If there’s no sense of purpose, create one. It can be as simple as “I choose to live every moment in fun and enjoyment” or “I want to devote my time to learning a new skill, like playing the violin” or “I now focus my efforts onto the grandchildren.”
    • Take care of a pet, such as a cat or a dog.
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    Add enjoyment to your life. Make time for enjoyable things to help cope with symptoms of depression.[14] Think of pastimes that used to bring you pleasure, and go do them. These may include biking, crocheting, gardening, or cooking. You can take a walk or enjoy some time in nature.
    • Laughing gives an automatic mood boost, so find as many opportunities to laugh as possible.[15] Invite friends or family over and tell funny stories, and play board games with friends.
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    Work through bereavement. As people age, they may experience more and more loss. Parents, siblings, partners, and friends may begin to pass away more frequently. Dealing with loss after loss can be difficult, especially if many significant people have passed. While it’s normal to be sad and to grieve the loss, look out for symptoms of depression. If the person appears to lose all sense of hope and and joy, it may be more than grieving.[16]
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    Engage in exercise. Even if mobility is limited, there are plenty of exercises you can do. After all, exercise may treat depression as effectively as medication, without the side effects.[17] Go for a walk each day, do some light cleaning or housework, and play with the grandkids to get some activity in each day.
    • You can use weights to maintain or build muscle tone. If you prefer gentler workouts, consider water aerobics or light stretching.
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    Volunteer. Volunteering allows you to connect with other volunteers and make friends while helping others. Because isolation is a large part of depression, volunteering allows you to connect with others (be it humans or animals) and combat depression more effectively.[18]
    • Volunteering can help you feel a sense of purpose and like you have a role with something important.
    • Consider volunteering with children, with animals, or doing small tasks for a local non-profit.

Part 3
Exploring Medical/Psychological Treatment Methods

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    Talk to a psychotherapist. Therapy can be beneficial for many people as they work through symptoms of depression.[19] Therapy can help build coping skills, alter negative thought patterns, and help to discover ways to live a fulfilling life. Therapy can also help work through the frustrations of losing mobility and independence, loss, and grieving.
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    Ask about medication. If you think medication may be a beneficial way to treat depression, talk to your medical practitioner or a psychiatrist.[20] You can explain your symptoms and he or she can determine whether a depression medication is right for you.
    • Not all medications can be mixed with other medications. Make sure you have your medical chart available and write down all current medications.
    • If you’re currently on medication, ask your medical practitioner if depression is a side effect. If so, ask if there are alternatives.
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    Check out Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is sometimes used in older adults who cannot take medications for depression due to side effects or other drug interactions, or for those significantly affected by depression that cannot perform daily functions. ECT uses small currents delivered to the brain in order to create tiny seizures. These seizures can trigger rewiring of the brain, and help with severe symptoms of depression.[21]
    • While ECT may have some side effects, current practices use anesthesia (while past treatments did not). It is much safer than it was when first introduced as a treatment approach.

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Categories: Aged Care | Depression