Depression can affect anyone, and at any point of their life. While older adults are at increased risk of experiencing depression, it is still common for healthcare professionals to mistake the symptoms as a natural response to a chronic illness, sudden physical limitations or the loss of close family or friends.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, depression affects around 28% of women aged 65 or over in the UK, and 22% of men. However, a study carried out in 2014 reported that an estimated 85% of those experiencing depression in this age group are receiving no help from the NHS. It’s safe to say, that depression often goes undetected, and especially in the elderly.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the causes of depression. Let’s look at a couple of the possible triggers and, more importantly, how you can help your loved one to get the right support.
Concerns about deteriorating health
Around 80% of older people experience chronic illness. Whether it’s coronary heart disease, life after a stroke, cancer, diabetes or living with dementia, the impact of being diagnosed with a potentially life-limiting condition can be destructive and far-reaching, especially when it places restrictions on your independence and mobility.
In fact, one in three people diagnosed with a long-term condition experience some form of depression. Sometimes, the physical impact of the condition itself – and even the side effects of the medication – can result in feelings of despair. These feelings can chip away at someone’s confidence and can even make a condition worse. Your loved one may isolate themselves from others and be regularly experiencing fatigue and apathy about the future.
It’s important for your loved one to know that you’re there for them through these challenging periods. While you can never force someone to ask for help, you can let them know about the options that are available.
Try and be open about the complicated emotions they may be experiencing and let them know that you’re there to talk if they’d like to. You could always help them to write down any questions they may want to ask their doctor, or even attend appointments with them – even if that’s accompanying them only as far as the waiting room. Having you there will most likely be an enormous source of support and encouragement.
If your loved one is feeling the physical impacts of their condition, see if there are any practical things you can help them with, such as help with the household chores, cooking a meal and offering them a lift to appointments, or a break away from home.
Loneliness and isolation
Losing friends or a life-long husband or wife can obviously have massive ramifications on a person. Also, with an increasingly mobile population, it’s quite common for children and grandchildren to have moved town, county or even country, reducing the circle of support and creating deeper feelings of isolation.
Age UK, the UK’s largest charity organisation that specialises in care for older people, reports that over 1 million older people in the UK say they feel lonely, either often or always. Many feel cut off from society, going days on end without speaking to another person, whether that’s a friend, family member or just a friendly face at the local shop or park.
Encouraging your loved one to make meaningful connections within their local community may help ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation. These links may involve meeting up with a friendly neighbour, attending a coffee morning, reigniting their interest in a hobby or past-time, or getting involved with something entirely new. If you live close by, you could always suggest going with them if they’re reluctant to go on their own.
Keep in touch by dropping in when you can. Talking can be a great healer, if they feel able to open up. But having a chat about other topics and insights can help to take the pressure off, such as sharing stories or discussing their favourite TV programme.
If help is not at hand, you could always arrange for a regular carer to visit.
Along with practical things, like cooking a meal, household chores and personal care, a carer can become an excellent source of friendship and someone with whom you can talk through problems. Many home care companies carefully match their customers with carers, helping to spark an ongoing and supportive relationship. Families who are unable to provide regular support themselves often arrange for a live-in carer to offer that day-to-day assistance, friendship and peace of mind.
There are many reasons why someone with depression is struggling to ask for help. The best thing is to be patient and let them know that support is available, if or when they decide to take it.
*Blog written by Becky Evans from Helping Hands, the organisation for home care and nursing.