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32 tips for caring with a depressed parent

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of older adults have one or more chronic health conditions, and 50% of older adults are dealing with at least two chronic health conditions. Because depression is more common among people who have other illnesses or are experiencing limited function, older adults are especially vulnerable and have a higher risk of developing depression. Seniors who experience isolation and loneliness are also more likely to experience depression. The CDC states that between 1% and 5% of older adults living in the community have major depression, while an estimated 13.5% of older adults who require home healthcare and 11.5% of hospitalized older adults have the disorder.

Despite a common misperception, depression is not a normal part of aging, yet this widespread belief leads many seniors to avoid seeking help when they experience symptoms of depression.

Sadly, many older adults who simply learn to cope with feelings of sadness, isolation, fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, insomnia or excessive sleeping, changes in appetite, and other symptoms miss out on the chance to receive treatment and feel better. With appropriate treatment, older adults can manage their depression and regain their quality of life.

If your elderly parent is experiencing depression, you want to help, but you may not be sure how to help. Fortunately, there are many ways caregivers can help depressed elderly parents, from getting them involved in engaging activities each day to encouraging regular exercise, finding ways to increase socialization, such as through the use of technology when in-person interaction isn’t possible, and more. To learn more about how caregivers can help an aging parent cope with, manage, and ovecome depression with appropriate treatment and intervention, we reached out to a panel of caregivers, healthcare providers, and senior care experts and asked them to answer this question:  

“How can caregivers deal with depressed elderly parents?"

Read on to learn what our panel had to say about the best ways caregivers can deal with depressed elderly parents.

Dr. Giuseppe Aragona
@prescriptiondoc

 Dr.Giuseppe Aragona is a General Practitioner & Medical Advisor at Prescription Doctor M.D.

“I think you have to deal with depression on an individual basis…”

There is no one solution, so it is a matter of knowing your parents and doing the best for them. If they are being more reclusive, try and see them more and have time for them. You can even try to send them a message every day, as a little reminder of your support. If they are becoming angry or confused, letting them air out their grievances may be a better solution.

Brittany Ferri

Brittany is a mental health occupational therapist and founder of Simplicity of Health, LLC, where she provides health writing, consulting, and wellness education to a range of community partners. She is an adjunct teacher and has authored two therapy textbooks and a children's book.

“Caregivers who are assisting depressed elderly parents during this time may be struggling to maintain their moods while also encouraging their loved ones…”

Caregivers should attempt to maintain as much of a sense of normalcy for their loved one as possible. Keeping routines mostly intact and minimizing the contact your loved one has with visitors (home health aides, nurses, etc.) will be especially helpful in stabilizing their mood and avoiding the intense reactions that often come along with significant change.

Caregivers can not only train loved ones to use technology to video chat with their family but also join in these activities with them. They should attempt to use simple technology wherever they can to maintain the connections between their loved ones and the outside world while preserving their safety. These technologies may include remote monitoring systems (via telehealth for nurses, doctors, and other health-related needs), YouTube videos with chair yoga or guided meditation, digital picture frames, and tools like Amazon Echo or Dot.

Caregivers should also encourage exercise during a time when it can be easy to loaf around. While this may be comforting at first, it will not help depression in the long-term or even distant short-term. Caregivers should assist their loved one in walking around the inside or outside of the house (if they are able), help to do chores to neaten the house, sort groceries that just got delivered or brought in by family, etc. All of these tasks will help loved ones to stay active and ward off the onset of depression due to isolation.

Reshmi Saranga M.D.
@sarangapsych

Reshmi Saranga M.D., is a geriatric psychiatrist who founded Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry.

“As the caregiver to a senior, you may have been led to believe that depression tends to set in as we age…”

It's just not true. Seniors should be able to live every day to the fullest and enjoy each stage of life. Being upset once in a while is normal. Constantly living in a depressed state is not normal regardless of age. The good news is, there are many things you can do to help an elderly parent better deal with depression.

If your elderly parents are taking multiple medications, make sure you understand the side effects of these meds. Some medications can cause similar side effects that look like depression. Sometimes a change in dose or taking the medicine at a different time of day can make a difference. Make sure your parents visit their primary doctor often, as there are some physical health problems that can cause depression.

Your elderly parents might not be able to exercise as rigorously as they used to, but even going for a short walk, swimming, and chair exercises can all be beneficial to mental health and well-being.

Many elderly people experience depression when they lack social interaction. Make sure you visit regularly, call them each day, bring the grandkids by to visit and make sure they have other people to spend time with wherever they are living. Even just playing cards and socializing can alleviate depression. Boredom and feeling like you don't have a purpose anymore can bring about depression, so make sure your elderly parents have enough to do to keep them busy.

If you have tried everything else and still believe your elderly parent is experiencing too much depression, it might be time to reach out and see a mental health professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is a Health Ambassador for Family Assets.

“If you are a caregiver of an elderly parent with depression, there are steps you can take to help the patient in their journey…”

You can talk to them about behaviors you have noticed if they are unaware of the problem themselves in an encouraging and loving way:

  • You can listen to the feelings they may have about their disorder.
  • You can assure them that you will be a partner and a supporter as they seek health.
  • You can help them find a healthcare provider and encourage treatment.
  • Encourage a routine.

In the case of a parent who is unwilling to admit they might have depression, it is important to be patient but persevering in your encouragement that they should be assessed. Most of the time they will agree to meet with their regular physician if they are not ready to meet with a mental health professional.

Finding the right provider can be an unwanted stress in an already difficult situation. A great place to start for those unfamiliar with depression is with your current care provider, which may be your family doctor or general practitioner. In many cases, your current care provider will be able to recommend the next step.

It is important to note that the first care provider you meet with may not be the one you should choose. Additionally, your parents may not stay with the same care provider throughout their treatment or the duration of their disorder. As their needs change, they may find that they no longer agree or feel comfortable with their provider and may want to seek a new one. In the case of depression, they need to feel comfortable with their care provider and be able to develop trust.

Dr. Patricia Celan
@patriciacelan

Dr. Patricia Celan is a Psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada. She completed her M.D. at the University of British Columbia.

“The best thing to do when helping anyone who is depressed is to…”

Just listen non-judgmentally, and do not provide unsolicited advice (always ask if they would like advice first). The depressed person may be more challenging to care for, as depression often comes with irritability or lack of motivation that can impede daily activities; try to be patient and understand that a depressed person is not intentionally oppositional.

Another difficulty for a caregiver in dealing with a depressed elderly parent could be feeling responsible to treat their depression. However, beyond being supportive, encouraging, and spending fun quality time with them to help them laugh and reduce their stress, the cure is not the responsibility of the caregiver. Encourage elderly parents to seek treatment for their depression by going to support groups, a therapist, or asking their family doctor or psychiatrist for help. In the meantime, don't try to shoulder the burden of curing them, as you'll be more helpful if you don't get burned out; show them you care without taking on too much.

Lynell Ross
@WellCoachLynell

Lynell Ross is the Founder & Managing Editor of Zivadream.

“Here are some tips on how caregivers can deal with and help depressed elderly parents…”

Encourage them to see the spiritual side of life.

Those closer to the end of their lives than the beginning may begin to lose hope because they focus on what is behind them and all that is gone instead of being in the present moment. Show your parents current pictures of family, pets, or loved ones. Point out flowers, trees, or birds in the garden or outside the window. Help them to see that they can still enjoy what is right here, right now. Help them find a support group or online groups with similar interests to keep them engaged in spiritual activities.

Ask them what they are grateful for.

Focusing on gratitude is the quickest way to help someone elevate their mood. Bring them a cup of tea and ask them about the things they appreciate, such as the morning sunrise, their favorite television show, music they love, and people who are important to them. Sit with them as you watch uplifting programs or historical documentaries.

Create a beautiful environment.

Having their possessions around will help your parents feel better. Clean and organize their room or space and fill it with their books, favorite possessions, plants, and flowers. In the winter, bring in LED candles for extra light and keep a diffuser running with uplifting essential oils such as peppermint and orange or calming scents such as lavender which can elevate their moods.

Talk to them about their feelings.

Don't dance around the subjects that are worrying them. As we get older, people may have a fear of death, sadness about aging, and the loss of people or things that were once in their lives. If we shut down their feelings and try to cheer them up without allowing them to feel what is upsetting them, we may make the depression worse. You have to be willing to sit with their pain without trying to fix it. However, know that listening in a real heart to heart way will allow their sadness to pass. Then, remind them how much you care about them and how important they still are. Help them to feel loved, wanted, and that they still matter.

Lakelyn Hogan
@homeinstead

Lakelyn Hogan, MA, is a gerontologist and caregiver advocate for Home Instead Senior Care. In her role, Lakelyn educates professionals, families, and communities on issues older adults face and provides resources to support family caregivers and their aging loved ones.

“Caring for an elderly parent who is living with depression can be very difficult and stressful – and caregivers are often the first line of defense…”

The first step in helping someone deal with depression is to recognize the warning signs and symptoms, such as consistently low energy levels, loss of interest in former activities, changes in appetite, or irregular sleep patterns. Here are some suggestions to care for and support an older adult struggling with depression:

Validate their pain.

Just listening and being understanding can be a powerful healing tool. Statements such as “It's not a big deal,” or “Cheer up!” can gloss over the fact that your parent is struggling with a difficult disorder. Let them know you want to understand how they feel. When they want to talk, listen carefully, but avoid giving advice or making judgments.

Give positive reinforcement.

People with depression may judge themselves harshly and find fault with everything they do. Remind your loved one about their positive qualities and how much they mean to you and others.

Help create a low-stress environment.

Establishing a regular routine may help older adults with depression feel more in control. Offer to create a daily schedule for meals, physical activity, and sleep, and organize household chores. Consider giving suggestions about specific tasks you'd be willing to do or ask if there is a particular responsibility you could take on.

Encourage them to stick with treatment.

If someone you're caring for is undergoing treatment for depression, help them remember to take prescribed medications and keep up with appointments. Recognize and compliment any significant improvement you see in their lives. Be genuine!

Annette Fields
@VineyardJC

Annette Fields is the executive director of Vineyard Johns Creek, an assisted living community opening next year in Johns Creek, GA, specializing in care for those suffering from memory loss.

“Being the caregiver is a difficult job, no matter how much we want to do it or how much we love the person we are caring for…”

A caregiver needs to first take care of themselves – that isn't being selfish, it is necessary. You cannot take care of another if you are not well yourself.

Here are a few tips to help with your loved one:

  • Know the signs of depression and get medical advice. Ask if depression may be a side effect of medications your loved one is taking.
  • Listen to them without judgment and without the urge to 'fix' – sometimes, they just need to talk.
  • Ensure they are getting proper nutrition and hydration. If they do not want to eat a meal, do not stress. Try to encourage easy to eat and nutritious snack options during the day. You can also try making a smoothie together, which is a great way to provide fruits, vegetables, and protein.
  • All of us need exercise, and there are many options. Take a walk, find some exercise videos for seniors, or do some stretching exercises. Try to make it fun and creative – and if you can do it outside to get fresh air and sunshine, even better!
  • Animals can provide excellent therapy. If you do not have an animal, visit a neighbor with one or find out if a local animal shelter will let you go and cuddle one.
  • Music is powerful – find out what your loved one's favorite music genre is or listen to music from when they were younger. Ask what memories different songs bring up or how a song makes them feel. Get your loved one to dance if you can – which is more exercise!

More than anything, try to get to know your loved one in a different way. Simply being there to listen, have a conversation, and visiting can do wonders.

Dr. Carla Marie Manly
@drcarlamanly

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and wellness expert, makes her home in California. Dr. Manly specializes in the treatment of aging issues, anxiety, depression, and trauma. With a holistic focus on creating balance and wellness from the inside out, she brings passion and depth to the self-help realm. Dr. Manly's recently released books, Joy from Fear and Aging Joyfully help others create the life of their dreams.

“There are several ways caregivers can help a depressed elderly parent…”

Here are some helpful ideas to try:

  • Reach out to extended family members and friends to create video chats and messaging groups.
  • Stay as active as possible. Encourage elders to engage in easy daily activities that will offer a sense of joy, accomplishment, or social connection.
  • When possible, encourage elders to do for others – even if it means making a small batch of cookies or writing a card. Other-oriented activities tend to reduce depression.
  • Let the elder know that you're taking pragmatic steps to obtain additional supplies of food and medical necessities. Talking about these basics can reduce worry and depression.
  • Take care to model a positive attitude so that elders don't absorb negativity, stress, or anxiety.
  • Reach out to community services for assistance with meals and basic health care needs. Seniors are often put at the top of community-care service lists. Visits from such organizations can feel very comforting and enlivening.
  • Reduce discussions and exposure to negative news. Those suffering from depression often focus on the negative and magnify problems.
  • Ask grandchildren, adult children, and technology savvy friends for assistance with connecting to loved ones via technology.
  • Make plans for the future. Talk about – and plan for – activities such as future holidays, vacations, and events.
  • Look online for groups and classes that are connective in nature, whether it's a video art class or crossword puzzle group.
  • Embrace a gratitude practice. Talk with elders about your gratitude list and encourage elders to share their gratitude list with you each day. Research shows that gratitude is a powerful tool against depression.

Chris Brickler
@mynd_health

Chris Brickler is the CEO of MyndVR, the national leader in providing virtual reality (VR) solutions for senior living communities. The company is committed to conducting clinical trials in order to measure the therapeutic effect of VR. These trials will also measure the health care outcomes, including cognitive, visual, emotional, and physical effects on older adults.

“As COVID-19, or coronavirus, continues to spread across our country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has…”

Advised “social distancing” and that those who are deemed higher-risk persons “avoid crowds” and “stay home” to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

The Trump administration is “strongly advising that nursing homes for the elderly suspend all medically unnecessary visits.” And with no vaccine in sight, this could be a lengthy containment.

I believe this is the right approach to protecting the physical health of our seniors. However, these social distancing measures will likely have a negative impact on the already vulnerable residents of these communities, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and potentially causing isolation-induced depression. Depression, especially for the elderly, “can be especially hard and even dangerous,” according to Susan London, LMSW, director of social work at Shore View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

According to one report in the National Academies of Sciences, “Social isolation has been associated with a significantly increased risk of premature mortality from all causes,” including a “50 percent increased risk of developing dementia,” and a “32 percent increased risk of stroke.”

For many seniors living in skilled nursing facilities and care communities, being isolated can be truly frightening. And now, due to this pandemic, it means no visits from the outside world — no friends, no family, no window to the world outside their four walls. Their front door has just been locked.

But virtual reality (VR) is changing that.

According to Dr. Walter Greenleaf, a neuroscientist working at Stanford University and a leading authority in the field of medical virtual reality technology, “VR technology can address many of the difficult problems inherent in caring for our elders. Today, we are using VR technology to

help reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness — this is making a big difference — not just for those seniors living in care centers, but also for those who are living independently. Our seniors often feel disconnected, bored and lonely — virtual reality technology provides a powerful way to attend to this problem.”

Companies like ours have dedicated our work to developing a platform that harnesses the power of VR for senior living. It enables seniors to “travel” and enjoy a world of experiences they otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy. Our content library, the largest among VR companies geared towards senior living, includes 100+ unique travel destinations, allowing seniors to visit

places like Rome, Antarctica, Hong Kong and even a virtual trip down Route 66. In addition to travel, we have many other VR activities, such as skydiving, scuba diving, seeing Broadway shows, attending music concerts, visiting art galleries, and so much more.

Human beings are social creatures. We thrive on our interpersonal relationships and our in-person interactions. Having that taken away for an extended period of time can cause irreparable harm to our physical and mental health. But with basic sanitary practices, VR can be a boost to seniors — encouraging social interaction, reducing levels of anxiety and isolation, and improving the overall quality of life.

During unprecedented times like this, it’s important to do everything we can to lift the spirits of our seniors and help them improve their quality of life while outside visitors are discouraged from visiting. It’s imperative that seniors are given the ability to transcend their four walls and reclaim the world this global pandemic has placed outside their grasp. They have earned it, and they deserve it.

Lara Krawchuk, MSW, LCSW, MPH

Lara is the Founder and Clinical Director of Clinical Services at Healing Concepts, LLC.

“As a psychotherapist specializing in supporting families facing illness, trauma, and grief, I am frequently asked for advice around supporting depressed seniors…”

The era of COVID-19 has significant impacts on vulnerable seniors. They are isolated and afraid with no clear end in sight. Some have lost friends to the virus or other illnesses, while others may be dealing with health problems and fear going to the doctor's office. Much has been taken away from them. Loss and grief are all over the news, which can be overwhelming.

The first thing to consider when supporting a depressed senior is whether or not they have a history of depression or are reacting to the world they now live in. If they have a history of depression, it is advisable to encourage the struggling senior to reach out to any prior helping

relationships. A medication adjustment and a safe place to process worries and sorrows triggered by COVID-19 can be very helpful.

If this depression is new since the pandemic crisis emerged, it might actually be grief. This situation is littered with losses. Living losses include restricted freedom, decimated social connections, absent leisure activities, loss of control, financial distress, and lost hopes and dreams for the retirement years.

Bereavement losses also abound. Family or friends may be ill or have died, and traditional mourning practices are inaccessible. Where there is this much loss there is also grief. In many ways, grief mimics the symptoms of depression. If your senior seems depressed, see if they are struggling with recent losses. If so, ask them to tell you about the hardest losses for them and how they are feeling. Help them honor the pain. Validate the struggle. After all, this is really hard! Only then encourage them to take a break from the pain and shift towards hope and joy.

Explore ideas for making the shift. Offer your presence and caring. Do not rush them, and do not try to fix them. If they are grieving, they need a safe space to share how they feel. They need permission to grieve. Be an exquisite witness. Depression, anxiety, and grief may be a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. The important thing is to authentically honor each part of the experience and then find ways to shift towards hope and possibility. There are times when depression is a mental illness. There are many other times when deep sorrow is a sign that a person needs a safe space to grieve. Offer that space and know that many grief therapists like myself are here to help.

Dr. Lindsay Israel
@SuccessTms

Dr. Lindsay Israel is a board-certified psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at Success TMS. Her goal is to help patients feel empowered because their symptoms can leave them feeling powerless. She specializes in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy for depression & anxiety. TMS is a safe, FDA-approved treatment for depression that's no-drug and covered by insurance and Medicare.

“Here are a few things caregivers can do to help a depressed elderly parent…”

  1. Make sure that there is a medical or mental health professional involved and managing your parent’s depression.
  2. Make sure your elderly parent is getting consistent sleep.
  3. Engage your parent to participate in activities, such as knitting or gardening, or something that relates to their previous career. Keeping up some physical activity helps with physical and emotional health. Go for a walk with your loved one. Even if they are wheelchair-bound, you can have them do some easy upper body exercises while you push them.
  4. Give them a sense of purpose – ask them to help you with a task or chore of some kind. Ask them for advice for something.
  5. Remind them they are loved. Don’t just say it; show it. Send them a care package or send them a video message expressing your love and appreciation for them. Talk about fond memories you shared with them.

Rick Lauber
@cdncaregiver

Rick Lauber is a published book author and an established freelance writer. Lauber has written two books, The Successful Caregiver’s Guide and Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians as valuable resources for prospective, new, and current caregivers. He is also very pleased to have been twice-selected as a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul.

“Family caregivers can help isolated seniors reduce depression…”

If a senior remains living at home or in a long-term care facility that still allows guests, family caregivers can regularly visit, talk, share family stories, play games, tackle a jigsaw puzzle together, or listen to music – all while maintaining proper social distance. If the senior is not allowed guests, family caregivers could regularly reach out via telephone, e-mail, or text to say “Hello.” A family caregiver could design a sign and visit outside a long-term care facility’s window, read a story over the telephone to an isolated senior, write letters to deliver to the care

home’s front door (and have distributed by staff) and encourage that senior to maintain a specific routine or take up a new hobby. Doing anything physically or mentally active may help reduce depression.

Dr. Bryan Bruno

Dr. Bryan Bruno is the Medical Director at Mid City TMS, a New York-based mental health center focused on treating depression. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.

“If you’re the family member or caregiver of a depressed elder, you’re not alone in your struggle to get your loved one the help they need…”

Below are four ways to approach depression in elderly parents and loved ones:

  1. Keep their body and mind healthy through socializing: Feelings of isolation are a common trigger for depression and other health issues, especially in elderly patients who may miss their families and friends. Elders who maintain social relationships tend to have lower levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory factor commonly linked to aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis.
  2. Plan regular activities to do together: The counteraction of unwanted moods and behaviors, the reduction of stress levels in the brain, and the recalibration of the sleep-wake cycle are all psychological benefits to group routine activities. Get involved in the hobbies that bring them the most joy, or even suggest new activities to try together.
  3. Reassure them that they are not alone: Mental health stigma tends to be strongest among older adults, who often fear that their symptoms will lead to hospitalization or rehoming. Reassure them that while depression is not a sign of good health, it is not uncommon and is very treatable.
  4. Don’t let depression go untreated: While data shows that at least 7 million people over age 65 in America deal with depression, only around 10% of them seek out and receive treatment. For more severe and persistent symptoms, antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be necessary treatment options to consider.

Alongside these other tips, help them review their options for professional treatment through their primary care provider.

Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C
@ThingsCanBeDiff

Raffi is a therapist and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center.

“With the proliferation of online therapy in the wake of the pandemic, it's easy for…”

Caregivers to help elderly parents get connected with a therapist who specializes in senior issues. And for those who are too anxious or disabled to use a computer or mobile device, a phone is still an option (and in many places, these options are now covered by insurance as well). Despite reservations they may have, seniors can in fact gain a lot from therapy and should be encouraged to at least give it a try. Depression is a treatable condition, and it is worth reaching out to a professional for help.

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith is the Executive Director of Senior Action, a non-profit organization based in Greenville, SC that’s devoted to keeping seniors healthy, active, and engaged in meaningful activities.

“Depression is an illness that needs to be handled with care…”

Just as you would not attempt to treat a physical illness in a parent without professional assistance, you should treat depression the same way. We all have days when our mood changes and we may feel sad or “depressed.” However, clinical depression is persistent and typically interferes with one of three things: job, school, or relationships. Since the senior population does not typically deal with those first two factors, it can be trickier to recognize. If a person is having a physical struggle, we would not hesitate to see a doctor to determine the cause. We need to be as comfortable seeking a doctor to assess the cause of the emotional illness, as well. Help and healing are available. People do not have to live in silence, struggling with this disease that affects so many other aspects of their life (i.e., physical health, relationships, etc.) Seek a professional who can assess the situation and offer appropriate treatment.

In the case of elderly parents who are lonely and depressed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend checking in on them regularly and talking via phone and video chat as much as possible. If there are grandkids in the family, encourage them to interact virtually, as well. If you are geographically close enough, offer to go run errands for them (go grocery shopping, pick up prescriptions, etc.) and make porch deliveries so they don’t have to leave the house. If they are tech-savvy, help them set up a Facebook page so they can reconnect and interact with friends and relatives. Encourage them to follow any groups or pages dedicated to seniors, as many are offering online exercise and yoga classes, art classes, musical performances, etc. Also check to see if any senior or community organizations are handing out or delivering free meals for seniors. Write them letters or send notes of encouragement, and ask friends, family, and church members to do the same.

Elizabeth Moss
@julielilliston

Elizabeth Moss, Founder & Chief Care Officer, Caregivers by WholeCare, is a compassionate home care company for seniors and disabled adults in Middle Tennessee. WholeCare cares for the whole person – body, mind, and spirit and has won numerous awards including Best of Home Care - Employer of Choice Award by Home Care Pulse for the past four years.

“Here are some tips to help family caregivers deal with depressed elderly patients…”

  1. Promote optimal sleeping habits. Keep a regular sleep schedule and limit daytime naps.
  2. Encourage virtual social interaction. Call or video chat with friends and family.
  3. Remain physically active. Complete age-appropriate exercises daily.
  4. Support healthy eating habits. Encourage them to consume lots of fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, grains, and lean protein. Minimize sugar, starch, and unhealthy fats. Drink plenty of water and limit alcohol intake.
  5. Entrust them with a meaningful responsibility, such as chores around the house (i.e., walking the dog, watering the plants). Allow decision making in any areas that are safely possible.
  6. Show them they are loved. Remind them that you love and need them. Listen to them and offer support.
  7. Seek non-pharmaceutical measures like aromatherapy.
  8. Consider home care. Hire caregivers to help with activities of daily living, such as grocery shopping and bathing, and give family caregivers a respite.

Kirsten Antoncich
@kirstenAntoncic

Kristen is an experienced UKCP Psychotherapist who works with both children and adults in Yorkshire. She has worked in the field for 19 years and has a background in research – specifically self-harm and suicide.

“Here are five ways to support your depressed elderly parent…”

Finding yourself as the caregiver to elderly parents presents a complex yet navigable set of challenges. We know that there is a strong connection between the loss of mobility, increased social isolation, loneliness, and low mood in our older populations.

Here are five ways you can help your elderly relative overcome their depression:

Community and belonging

We all have a psychological drive to belong. When we feel we belong in a family, in a community, or in a workplace, we feel safe, useful, and connected, all things needed for good mental well-being. As we age, we lose some of our roles in life – longstanding parts of our identity. Mobility begins to impact how able we are to connect with others; a lowering of mood can often follow.

As a carer of an elderly relative, finding community group options for them to participate in is helpful. They will likely need support to attend physically. Some might feel anxious at the prospect of joining something new, and this in itself requires care and understanding. Anxiety can masquerade as anger, withdrawal, and resistance, so it’s worth talking candidly with your parent about how they are feeling. As anxiety and depression are what we call co-morbid (they frequently occur together), it might be that your parent is stuck in a vicious cycle of their lack of social connection. A lack of connection may cause anxiety, and in turn, their anxiety becomes a barrier to community support. When we work with depression in mental health settings, we often use behavior change as a way of working to change mood. Sometimes when we start to change what we do, an improvement in mood follows. It’s worth persevering in your attempts to keep them connected, and if community groups are not their thing, then a connection to the family is just as important.

Harnessing wisdom

Erickson, a psychologist well known for his stages of development, states that in old age we are hoping to have a sense of wisdom as we look back over our lives. This sense of wisdom creates a feeling of a life well-lived and protects us against mental illness in old age. In order to reach a sense of wisdom, we might need help from those around us to appreciate the difficulties we have navigated, the accomplishments we have made, and the things we have created. As a carer, you are in a unique position to draw this out of your relative gently. Showing interest in their stories, highlighting their skills, and helping to connect them with meaningful people and things in their life can help lift mood.

Purpose

The loss of purpose we can feel as we age can cripple our emotional health. There is a real sense of loss of our previous roles in life – for example, the needed parent or the reliable worker – which can create a painful awareness that a period of usefulness that bolstered our self-esteem is over. Helping your parent feel they still have value, asking their advice, asking them to problem solve with you, giving them tasks to complete for you, and getting them to help grandchildren with homework can all rekindle their self esteem and improve their mood.

Mastery

Encouraging your elderly relative to feel as though they still have choice in their life can help them feel as though they are still independent. So many things can begin to feel out of their control, and this in turn can create anxiety and low mood. Helping them take on meaningful projects that they can have an element of control over can be helpful. Planning a small area of a garden, contributing ideas to a family holiday, or even having control over basic choices such as meals for the week can increase a sense of control and improve their well-being.

Listening and giving permission to talk about feelings

When someone is depressed, they can lose their motivation to stay connected and to engage with hobbies and interests. The more they withdraw from their normal structure, the worse their mood can get. Being alongside someone who is depressed is an important part of helping them recover. It can be helpful to think of these steps:

  • Listen- Therapeutic listening means being able to really hear your elderly parent without wanting to immediately put your point across. It means possibly being quieter than usual and really paying attention to what they are saying. Use non-verbal listening cues like nodding and try paraphrasing back to them showing you have understood.
  • Attune - It’s tempting to state your point of view and list reasons not to be depressed, but this can actually stop your parent from sharing more of their feelings with you. We’ve all had those conversations with people when we have wanted to say how it really is for us, and the other person stops us in our tracks by saying something well-meaning that doesn’t attune to where we are in that moment. People with depression need attunement; it makes them feel connected and understood.
  • Validate - Help them see that it’s understandable to feel this way; it’s a really common reaction to getting older.
  • Soothe - Your words of comfort can really help someone when they are low. We can find it very hard to be self-nurturing when we are depressed, and it’s actually a time when self-nurturing is important. Giving them your words of comfort will help them internalize a more positive, hopeful voice. By showing them you have some ideas and ways forward, you can create a sense of hope within them.

Carol B. Amos
@CarolBAmos

Carol B. Amos is the author of H.O.P.E. for the Alzheimer’s Journey: Help, Organization, Preparation, and Education for the Road Ahead. She is a former caregiver and a CARES Dementia Specialist. Carol provides tips, tools, advice, and information to make the journey for Alzheimer’s caregivers less stressful and more rewarding.

“Caregivers need to understand their limitations and seek professional help to diagnose and treat depression…”

This is particularly important when the parent has exhibited memory loss or has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other dementia. I have seen multiple instances where the loved one was misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s instead of depression.

Caregivers can assist the doctor by taking notes on the behavior of their parent and the circumstances around mood and behavior changes. Caregivers can also try to cheer up their parent by calling a dear loved one, going on a special outing, serving their favorite food, or being more flexible with the caregiving routine.

Abdil Baholda
@prescriptiondoc

Abdil is the Clinical Lead and Pharmacist at Prescription Doctor.

“​When dealing with depressed elderly people, especially while separated from them at the moment…”

Try to let them lead the conversation and talk about what they want. Ask them questions that will bring the conversation back to them. Elder people can quite often focus the conversation on younger generations, and whole conversations can pass by without them actually saying a word about them.

Teri Dreher, RN, CCM
@TeriDreher

Teri Dreher, RN, CCM, is a Board-Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA). A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is owner and founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy agency in the Chicago area. She recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services, a not-for-profit organization that serves Chicago’s “senior orphans.” She has won numerous industry awards and is the author of Patient Advocacy Matters.

“Shelter-in-place orders are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but it’s not easy, especially for our already-isolated seniors…”

Maybe you have a loved one in a nursing home who you’re no longer permitted to visit or a neighbor or church member who lives alone without family support – i.e., a senior orphan. Their social interactions are now even more restricted, and beyond loneliness, it may endanger their health.

Research has found that socially isolated seniors are at a higher risk of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and earlier death. Chronic loneliness has been linked to increased depression and cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Yes, everyone’s situation is stressful right now, but theirs is undoubtedly worse. By finding creative ways to support and connect with isolated seniors in your orbit, you can give them the best possible gift right now.

How to Connect with Loved Ones in Nursing Homes

If you have a parent in a nursing home or assisted living facility, your communication options are shaped by the facility’s rules, as well as your parent’s capabilities.

Does your parent have a cell phone? While you’re undoubtedly making frequent phone calls, establishing a regular schedule will give them something to anticipate. Make the most of each conversation by planning upbeat topics – and encourage them to try video chatting. Chances are, they’ll love it.

For those with hearing loss, there’s never been a better time to get a captioned telephone. Available through various captioned phone providers, this service is free through the FCC when you can provide medical proof of a hearing impairment.

The CDC is recommending that healthcare providers facilitate “alternative methods of visitation” right now. If your parent can’t manage a tablet or laptop, see what the facility offers. You may be able to hold video chats through Zoom or Skype or share photos and notes through email and social media.

Finally, if the facility allows it (some don’t), sending flowers, treats, books, and cards is a nice way to keep loved ones feeling loved.

Supporting Senior Orphans While Social Distancing  

Don’t forget to check-in on your elderly neighbors and community members, too, either by phone or from a safe, six-foot distance. By all means, encourage them to stay busy, keep moving, and remain positive. You might also offer to:

  • Pick up their prescriptions
  • Grocery shop for them when you do your shopping (sanitizing items as you do your own)
  • Set up a grocery delivery service on their behalf
  • Supply them with newspapers, puzzles, books, DVDs, knitting supplies – whatever they turn to for entertainment

Such small gestures may mean more to a housebound senior than you’ll ever know.

During these difficult days, a little kindness goes a long way. Furthermore, in helping others, we help ourselves. Practicing generosity is good for the spirit (and in turn, our immune systems!). We will get through this – especially by looking out for each other.

Liza Gold

Liza Gold is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker from Comprehensive Therapeutic Services, a group practice in Manhattan.

“Caregiving is a wonderful and selfless act that can feel both rewarding and fulfilling…”

It can also elicit feelings of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. If you are caring for elderly parents suffering from depression, you might also find yourself feeling helpless and questioning what, if anything, is within your ability to cheer them up. There are a few steps you can take to proactively address their emotional needs:

Lend a listening ear.

Often, when people are feeling down, a supportive shoulder can be transformative. Spending time with a depressed love one can be painful, as it exposes you to their emotional suffering; however, if you can create space for their emotions, you may observe marked improvement in their mood. The next time you speak to your parents, whether by phone or in-person, ask this very simple question: how are you? Give them the time to respond. Remind them that you care and are available to listen.

Validate their emotions.

Because it can feel emotionally burdensome to sit with another person's pain, people are often quick to respond with comments such as, “It'll get better soon,” and, “Let's look on the bright side.” While offering hope and optimism is important, it is just as important to validate, reflect, and mirror what you hear. Let your parents know you understand and that their feelings make sense. Instead of, “I'm sure you'll feel better by tomorrow,” try, “It sounds like you're having a really difficult time. What can I do to help?”

Offer suggestions.

Exercise can make a substantial difference in one's mood. Perhaps your parents can take a 10, 15, or 20-minute walk, or do some stretches or light yoga at home. Intellectual stimulation is important, too. Can they try crossword games or jigsaw puzzles?

Lastly, do not neglect your emotional needs. We can only care for others to the extent that we care for ourselves. In order to provide optimal emotional support, it is essential that you practice good self-care. This entails adequate sleep each night, consuming nutritious foods, exercising when you can, and obtaining your own social support.

Kac Young

Kac Young has been a producer, writer and director in the Hollywood television industry for over 25 years. Kac has also earned a Ph.D. in Natural Health and a Doctorate in Naturopathy.

“Some of the things caregivers can do to help with depressed elders is to…”

  • Embody a positive spirit within yourself when you are with them.
  • Find something uplifting to tell them.
  • Ask them to tell you about something wonderful that happened to them, maybe in the present or maybe from the past.
  • Spend a few quality moments with them. Look into their eyes, hold their hand, connect with their heart, and listen to what they have to say. Really listen and pay attention. Connection is healing.
  • Show appreciation for something they have said or done.
  • Remember their birthday and holidays that are special to them. Bring them little surprises.
  • Ask children to make them cards or little gifts.
  • Find out where they come from, and if that is a positive memory, learn about their hometown and ask them questions.
  • Read to them. Ask them about their favorite authors and read a few passages each day from a book they love.
  • Ask them who their favorite singer is and bring the music to them. Play it while you are with them.
  • Provide a way for them to listen to books on tape, music, or poetry when you're not around.
  • Do they enjoy games? Ask them and maybe ask them to teach you how to play.

Above all, honor them. They have lived a full life and have gained much wisdom in their time. Remember, they have experienced joys and pain, just like everyone else. Ask their opinions and accept the information graciously.

Consider the time you are with them as a gift. These moments are fleeting, and they won't last. Cherish each visit. Tell them how much you enjoy being with them. Treat them as you will want to be treated when you are their age.

Joseph Tropper, MS, LCPC, CCTP
@CoreWellnessJT

Joseph Tropper, MS, LCPC, CCTP is a counselor at Core Wellness, and a clinical therapist, supervisor, and manager specializing in mental health wellness, including PTSD, trauma, relationships, anxiety, and depression issues.

“Nowadays, even caregivers are experiencing uncertainty…”

People are unaware of the extent of its impact now that new cases have gone down in China but are spiking in the United States, Singapore, Italy, and Spain. Being in an unsafe environment brings fear in an unfamiliar situation, and so, anxiety sets in.

Also take note that there are a number of subtypes of anxiety that include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, illness anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and hoarding.

What I recommend for caregivers is to adopt the following practices together with elderly parents. If they see you doing these things with them, they will be more encouraged to observe these wonderful tips:

  1. Write down your worries. This clears your mind and gives you a place to dump its content. Once out, things gradually become less stressful.
  2. Create an anxiety- and worry-free period. The basic level of this is to just decide, hey, from 9 AM until 10 AM each day I just don’t think about anything anxiety provoking. You will fight to make this happen but will slowly build up resistance. As you do this, you can switch to the advanced level, which is just the opposite, meaning you can only think about anxiety-provoking things during a one-hour designated time slot each day. Try it after a few weeks of the basic approach and you will be surprised at how productive you will become!
  3. Sleep, exercise, and healthy food. What we eat and how we treat our bodies makes a big difference, especially in this time of serious pandemic.
  4. Read a book, listen to music, or engage in other relaxation, especially breathing. Distractions work. They buy time and allow us to calm our inner world and rejuvenate.
  5. Practice the NAP Mindfulness Exercise. Notice, Accept, and (let it) Pass. This acronym expresses a three-part process. First, NOTICE what you are feeling (“I’m really scared about my meeting with the boss”), ACCEPT it without judgment (“I accept that I am nervous about the conversation, this is normal, and I will not judge myself”). This step is crucial. It is in the place of acceptance that we can move forward to let it PASS. Practice accepting uncertainty and letting go of self-judgment.

But is there any way to prevent these altogether?

A little bit of anxiety is normal. Give yourself some time to process it. Acknowledging anxiety is always the first step to overcoming it. Then, practice self-care. Being prepared can keep your mind calm in stressful situations. My clients find that while the initial taming of anxiety may be difficult, once it is under control it is a lot easier to maintain.

Overall, only one in three people even seek help for anxiety, with the other two thirds simply dealing with it or believing that it cannot be cured. The good news is that we know how to make things better for people with anxiety, and so much help is available. Firstly, many modalities address anxiety, which is among the top five reasons people seek help.

Secondly, many of the options (see my tips above) do not involve medication but are simply powerful coping skills and lifestyle tweaks.

Third, sometimes, after much effort and through advice from a medical professional, one decides it is time to try medication, and the good news is that many medications work very quickly.

David Foley

David Foley is the Founder of Unify Cosmos. He is a personal growth and spiritual practice advocate, a meditation teacher, and an expert in the field of meditating with brainwave entertainment/binaural beats technology.

“I’m not a caregiver, nor have I worked in the industry, but I know a thing or two about dealing with depression among elder folks…”

What’s tricky here is that they are at the stage in their lives where they feel they’re at the tail-end, which adds to the hopelessness and despair.

So, if you’re a caregiver, your best bet here would be to promote a sense of purpose. Have them engrossed in a new hobby that would enrich their lives in some way. This could be an activity like yoga or meditation, or something as simple as knitting or painting.

Justine Nelson, RN
@ClipboardHealth

Justine Nelson RN, BSN, has been a registered nurse for over 11 years with experience in home health, community health, school-based nursing, and healthcare-based tech startups. Justine is passionate about developing new and innovative roles for nurses outside of traditional nursing roles. She currently serves as an RN content Specialist for Clipboard Health.

“Depression can easily be overlooked in elderly patients due to the normal aging process and the natural slowing down that occurs with age…”

However, depression is not a part of the normal aging process and needs to be treated.

If you notice your patient’s moods changing over a period of time and not improving, it's a good idea to start the discussion with a physician or licensed therapist/counselor. A good preliminary tool health care providers can use is a geriatric depression scale; there are various versions to be found online.

The nursing plan of care can be altered to include interventions specific to aiding a patient with depression. Some of the interventions may include:

  • Spending some extra time with your patient and allowing time for them to express emotions.
  • Allow them opportunities to connect with family and friends.
  • Make sure ADLs are done daily.
  • Allow time for exercise and recreation, and if time allows, spend time playing a card game or doing an activity the patient enjoys. If photos of the patient's family are available to you, make an event of sitting with them and going through old pictures.

It may take some getting creative but having some intentionality behind time spent with your aging parent or a patient suffering from depression is important. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas or are worried about the effectiveness of your interventions, reach out to other health care professionals for assistance.

Meg Marrs

Meg Marrs is the founder of Safer Senior Care, a website dedicated to helping caregivers find the best resources for elderly friends and relatives in order to allow them to age in place safely and comfortably.

“I've found that often the best way to help elderly relatives who are feeling depressed is to prevent them from feeling isolated…”

When mobility is lost or limited, this can be tough to do. The good news is there is a ton of great technology out there designed to keep us more connected than ever, even from our home. The secret is showing seniors how to access and utilize this technology.

A great example is an item like the Amazon Echo Show. This product is a bit like a thick tablet that sits upright. It can function as a large-display clock and as a weather indicator – two useful options for seniors.

However, it can do so much more to help the elderly stay connected.

Probably the most desired feature for any senior is that it can be used to conduct video calls with loved ones! Seniors could use an item like this to read a bedtime story to the grandkids, catch up with old school friends, or just have a nice morning chat with a relative.

Loneliness is such a common issue for elderly individuals, so a tool like this that helps seniors keep in touch with loved ones can provide tremendous mental benefits.

The Echo Show can also play audiobooks, radio broadcasts, podcasts, music playlists, and even TV shows! An elderly individual can play the music he or she grew up on by listening to oldies stations, or they can listen to the latest news broadcasts to keep up with what's happening in the world.

Technology like this is only improving. The initial learning curve for some of these products may be challenging for a senior. However, with a bit of initial help from a younger, more tech-savvy relative, seniors will be able to access the multitude of features that can stave off depression and help them stay in touch with those most important to them.

Dr. Joseph Casciani
@Livingto100Club

Dr. Joseph Casciani has a 30-year history in long term care as a psychologist and manager of mental health practices. He was awarded the first contracts from the California Department of Aging in 1982 to develop mental health training for the state’s nursing homes. For 16 years, he was the clinical lead for a large mental health practice where he oversaw mental health programs for patients in hundreds of nursing homes, in eight states. He is also the founder and host of The Living to 100 Club radio show, which focuses on re-thinking stereotyped views about getting older and disregarding the limitations we put onto older adults.

“I have worked for 30+ years with older adults in long term care facilities as a psychologist and…”

Am now reaching older adults to help them on the path to successful aging and overcoming setbacks. I have a book coming out on this subject, and one chapter is on how one exception can lift our depression. When depressed, all we can see is the failures, the disappointments, and the losses, like wearing blinders and not seeing the whole picture, the good and the bad. Remove the blinders and we can see the positives that are all around us. Look for one thing that's going right, or one person that seems to care, or one thing in the day that was pleasant or uplifting. Once we can spot an exception, we're on the way to changing those self-limiting beliefs and seeing the whole picture.

Lise Leblanc
@lleblanc100

Psychotherapist Lise Leblanc applies her deep insights and effective strategies to the Conscious Caregiving Guide with the goal to help readers tackle their caregiving role and achieve optimum wellness for themselves and their loved one.

“Many seniors have developed good coping strategies as a result of a long life filled with various challenges and stressors, but…”

That doesn’t mean they will be psychologically prepared to deal with the unwanted changes and losses that can happen in the later stages of life. I recently counseled an 83-year-old man who said, “When you reach a certain age, life becomes a continuous grieving process.” After losing his wife, one of his sons, and several family members and friends, he talked about the feeling of losing himself, losing his independence, his physical and mental abilities, and most importantly his sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. He talked about being a burden on his family, feeling anxious and unproductive, not having energy or motivation, and looking forward to the end.

Depression is a serious concern among seniors, and unfortunately, it is often missed or downplayed. The signs and symptoms of depression in older adults can be harder to recognize because there are many cognitive, physical, and emotional changes happening simultaneously. Depression in older adults may also be mistaken for other illnesses or the side-effects from medications to treat those illnesses. Sometimes, the changes in mood and behavior can be so gradual that it goes undetected for a long time. Therefore, if you are noticing significant changes in your loved one’s mental or emotional state, here are some things you can do:

Consult the Doctor

If you suspect depression, take it seriously. Contact your loved one’s doctor and voice your concerns. Let the doctor know about the changes you are seeing.

Access Counseling Services

If possible, and if your loved one is willing to talk to someone, find a counselor – preferably someone who specializes in seniors’ mental health.

Have Meaningful Conversation

Caregivers are often master problem-solvers and usually want to fix things as quickly and efficiently as possible. But we may try to fix things without really listening to our loved one’s deeper struggles. So, try to step out of problem-solving mode and simply ask questions and listen attentively. In my book, the Conscious Caregiving Guide, I provide several strategies on how to have meaningful conversations with your care recipient. Here are some suggested questions to help you get started:

  • What do you worry about most as you are getting older?
  • What has this stage of your life been like for you?
  • What is the hardest part about this time in your life?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What are your favorite memories of your life?

When having meaningful conversations, meet your loved one with compassion, dignity, and respect. Have the courage to bear witness to their suffering without trying to fix it. This will take the pressure off and allow you to learn more about their difficulties and emotional challenges. Sometimes a person just needs to feel heard and understood. And remember to end each conversation on a positive note!

Dr. Steven Rosenberg, Ph.D.
@DoctorRosenberg

Dr. Steven Rosenberg, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist and behavioral specialist practicing in Philadelphia for over 30 years. Dr. Rosenberg assists clients with a variety of emotional and mental health issues including anxiety, stress, sleep difficulties, weight loss/management, smoking cessation, sports performance, etc. His treatment methodologies include therapy, meditation, mindfulness, visualization, hypnotherapy, and more.

“Many caregivers feel powerless when it comes to helping their elderly, depressed parents…”

However, there are many things that can be done. The first sign of depression in the elderly is DISENGAGEMENT. They tend to not engage in once pleasurable activities. As a caregiver, you need to help the parent get back to engaging in these once pleasurable activities. To help facilitate this, you must be calm about it. Encourage them by having meaningful conversations with them. Speaking to your parents with feeling words is important. Use the phrase, “It makes me feel better!” This phrase tells the parent that you care. By saying, “It makes me feel better when I see you smile,” you are being compassionate and caring. Or try, “I would love you to be happy!”

Always remind your parents that you are there for them. Share with them how you feel when you reach out to talk to an old friend or family member. Suggest that they do the same. You are calmly getting them to engage again. Remember that LONELINESS is a major factor in depression in the aging population. You should not only have them reach out to people but also make them feel viable. Have them help you cook or pick up the kids or shop. This gives the elderly parent a sense of usefulness. There are many social daycare programs for the elderly that can get them involved in being with other people.

Even during quarantine, they can be virtual. Show them how to do a FaceTime or Skype visit to an activity. Consider getting them a pet if they are able to care for one. Having the companionship and responsibility of another living thing is huge and gives the parent a purpose in life. Enrolling in art therapy classes in person or virtually is a great way to build confidence. Finally, if you feel they need it, suggest that they speak to a professional! They may need medication or just talk therapy. Talk therapy is a phenomenal way for your elderly parent to get better. The most important factor is to be patient and calm, which will always pay off for you.

Peggy Maguire
@Cambia

Peggy Maguire is Cambia Health Solutions Senior Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility and Palliative Care Solutions. Philanthropically, she chairs the board of directors of the Doernbecher Children's Hospital Foundation and is a member of the All Hands Raised Leadership Council, the Habitat for Humanity campaign cabinet, and more.

“Here are a few ways caregivers can deal with depressed elderly parents…”

Help parents set new routines that promote better mental health, including a regular sleep and exercise routine, a new hobby such as puzzles or knitting, and new responsibilities to renew their sense of purpose. A low-maintenance pet that depends on them, a garden or single houseplant to look after, or a volunteer shift at a local church or nonprofit will all interrupt feelings of worthlessness. A journaling practice can also help them organize their thoughts, what's meaningful to them, and how they can spend more time nurturing those interests.

If they're coping with a chronic illness or medication side-effects, schedule a palliative care consultation. Palliative care provides an extra layer of support for people with serious illnesses. It includes emotional and spiritual support and a specialized interdisciplinary team that can assess and address the impact of loneliness and social isolation for older adults, along with physical pain and symptoms that may be associated with depression or other serious illness.

Help create a support system for their elderly loved one – working to establish a network of support through family, friends, and neighbors who can help along the way. Utilize virtual solutions like Facetime, virtual support groups, and even remote monitoring solutions so that caregivers can access regular updates from their loved one and monitor how they are feeling. If they're not comfortable with technology, drop-in chats through their window with a friendly neighbor or calling SAMHSA's national helpline are low-tech options.

Help get connected and get educated on the topic of depression in older adults. There are some disease management and case management programs available through health plans, like Regence's Personalized Care Support program, that provide caregiver support in addition to helping patients. There are a variety of community-based organizations that offer free or low-cost programs and resources to the community like friendly tele-visits that can provide 1:1 volunteer chats with someone who is experiencing loneliness.

Provide gentle suggestions on treatment options like individual counseling and complementary and alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture. Check with your health plan for coverage, or community-based organizations or trade schools for lower-cost alternatives.

Tap into the Veterans Administration program if you are caring for a loved one who served in the armed forces. PTSD, depression, and loneliness are real issues and can be even more severe for our veterans. Check with your local VA hospital or clinic to see what resources might be available specifically for veterans.

Dr. Casey Noreika, PsyD
@ClarityClinic_

Dr. Casey Noreika, PsyD, works with Clarity Clinic in Chicago.

“Depression in the senior population can look different than in younger populations but is just as complex…”

When one thinks of depression, they often think of sadness and maybe crying or tearfulness. However, other symptoms, such as low energy or fatigue, low motivation, and irritability, are also common. Changes in sleeping habits and appetite are also important things to look for.

Handling depression as a caregiver comes with its challenges and can lead to caregiver burnout. It is important to know how to behave and care for those who are affected by depression. Be patient with your loved ones or those you care for. It is common to become frustrated, and this can impact your interactions with those you are caring for. It’s especially important to try to stay calm and respond in a relaxed, even tone.

Understanding depression is difficult to overcome, and realizing depression takes away one's desire and motivation is also key. Given these symptoms, it is best to encourage continued social interactions and activities. Initiate conversations with family, friends, or neighbors and get your loved one involved in a local senior center that provides activities and interactions with others in the same age group.

And lastly, it is imperative to make sure a proper diet and exercise routine is taking place. Engage your loved one in meal planning, getting ideas from them regarding foods they like and want to eat. Incorporate their favorites in more health renditions, including protein and essential vitamins. Diet, coupled with light exercise, which may include short walks outside, chair exercises, or water-based exercise classes, is a great combo in fighting depression.

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