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On Depression and the Older Adult

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    Author: Alcibiades Rives, RN | Director of Nursing for Homewatch CareGivers of SouthWest Broward.

    The month of May is Mental Health Awareness month since 1949. Mental health is an umbrella term that includes a variety of conditions and disorders affecting millions of people across the United States. Depression is a condition that is often experienced along with other medical and psychological conditions.

    According to The National Institute of Mental health depression is explained as : “…a medical condition that interferes with daily life and normal functioning. It is not a normal part of aging, a sign of weakness, or a character flaw. Many older adults with depression need treatment to feel better.”

    There are several types:

    Major depressive disorder – interferes with the ability to enjoy daily life, also includes severe interference with concentration, sleep and activities of daily living.

    Persistent

    Depressive disorder (dysthymia) – lower level type of depression that persist, or last, for longer periods of time

    Minor depression Disorder- “Minor depression seems to represent the same illness as major depression but in a less severe form that, nevertheless, requires the attention of professional health care providers in both primary and specialized care settings“ Fils JM, Penic EC, Nickle EJ, et al.

    Keep in mind that there is a difference between grief and depression. Grief that is caused by loss is a normal adjustment reaction which may not always require treatment. The length of grieving may vary but does not last a very long time. A complication of that grief may lead to depression if not treated.

    According to The American Cancer Society -“It’s common for the grief process to take a year or longer. A grieving person must resolve the emotional and life changes that come with the death of a loved one. The pain may become less intense, but it’s normal to feel emotionally involved with the deceased for many years. In time, the person should be able to use their emotional energy in other ways and to strengthen other relationships.”

    Depression in the older adult can often be overlooked. Stay involved with your loved ones medical team; and report changes in mood, activities or appetite. chronic illness and insomnia are also a contributing factor to depression. Having a caregiver to monitor for these signs and symptoms are helpful tool for early intervention to be shared with a health care provider.

    Talk to your loved one about the experience of these symptoms and establish a plan with your loved one to address them. Reach out to medical provider to discuss treatment options.

    A medical provider can create a baseline and rule out any medical issues that may be causing depression.

    Many times individuals struggling with depression do not want to ask for help. It’s important to keep an open mind when listening to your loved one. Avoid lecturing or dismissing the symptoms as just part of getting older.

    Don’t hesitate to ask about suicidal thoughts or negative thoughts, in many cases, the individual will be honest about what they’ve been feeling. Determine if there is a plan. Be sure to offer your support, and discuss any thoughts of self-harm with health care provider, local hospital, or emergency services right away.

    Keep your loved ones engaged throughout the day to promote a positive balance of sleep-wake cycle. For the older adult it’s important to maintain a normal schedule. Balance the schedule and include light activities as tolerated throughout the day.

    Depression affects mood, energy, and motivation for self-care. Personal hygiene is important for self-image and dignity. Addressing factors that interfere with activities for self-care improves quality of life for your loved one. Assistance with Activities of daily living are part of the fundamental services we provide as Homewatch CareGivers.

    Companionship can be essential for many individuals who live alone. A caregiver is helpful by assisting your loved one with following a routine that can be individualized, and based on the needs of the individual.

    Connecting in a community is highly encouraged by Homewatch CareGivers. This blog post provides more information on: what it means to be part of a community. Involvement in the community, for the older adult, reduces feelings of loneliness and allows for the individual to relate to others who may be experiencing similar challenges.

    A healthy mind is better suited for coping with many of the challenges that occur with aging. We at Homewatch CareGivers are here to help, talk to us about how we can help your loved one live a healthier, happier life.

    For more information on Depression and other mental health related information:

    National Suicide Prevention Hotline (Crisis) 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)

    National Institute of Mental Health www.nimh.nih.gov

    National Suicide Hotline 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433)

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