Depression And Elderly Care
Those who care for the elderly either in their homes or in facilities like nursing homes and retirement centers and also hospitals face not only the medical needs of their patients but also the spiritual/emotional needs as well. Often times while caring for the elderly the caregivers may notice symptoms of depression such as changes in eating or sleeping habits, weight loss that is not explained by dieting or illness, a lack of interest in things that usually hold their interest or when their patients feel unworthy of life, express feelings of inappropriate guilt or say things like, “Everyone would be better off without me”, or “Life is just not worth living anymore”. These statements are signals that perhaps they have thoughts of suicide and the caregiver needs to be watchful for any other signs or symptoms of depression and seek medical intervention quickly because depression poses a serious risk to most individuals but especially for those who are elderly.
Untreated depression can lead to suicide. The elderly are prone to untreated depression as unfortunately many in society including physicians can fall into the trap of believing that depression is to be expected in someone of advanced age. Depression is a mood disorder and is not a normal state of being for anyone, no matter what the age. Depression needs to be recognized and treated. Depression is not curable but it can be managed with proper medical evaluation, treatment plans that include therapy and medication and ongoing evaluation to determine progress and to make adjustments to therapy or medication.
Caregivers are in a unique position to notice subtle changes in diet, habits, mood and speech patterns. Caregivers are often around when major lifestyle changes occur in the elderly so that they can be in tuned to the possibilities that could trigger depression. Lifestyle changes such as a move to a nursing home, retirement home or other senior living arrangement, the death of a spouse, a chronic illness or accident that drastically changes mobility are all situations and events that caregivers are usually a part of and can be alerted to the potential risk for depression in the patient. When caregivers are aware of the potential, they can support the elderly person and any family members that may also be part of the support group.
Lifestyle changes are not the only cause for depression in the elderly individual. There are other causes for depression in the elderly including isolation or lonliness, health issues that are long-term or sudden, medications can also trigger mood changes or have side effects that may trigger depression. Other emotional triggers for depression in the elderly are that they may feel a reduced sense of purpose following retirement, or they may have a increased amount of daily fear due to a terminal illness and the fear of dying that is a natural part of the process. The elderly tend to experience a greater occurrence of bereavement from the loss of friends, family members, pets and spouse through death. The elderly tend decrease in financial status as they age which increases their fear level over losing their home, not having money to pay bills, or buy medications or food.
Those who care for the elderly such as home health aids, neighbors, family members, visiting nurses or other healthcare professionals and pastors are usually trained to recognize these causes for depression and can therefore help to encourage them to seek medical care and evaluation early on when treatment is most effective.
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