My Parent Suffers from Depression: What Can I Do?April 11, 2023
According to recent estimates from the CDC, about 1–5 percent of otherwise healthy senior adults will suffer from major depression in the United States. However, that number can rise considerably among seniors with a chronic disease or other medical issues that require home healthcare or hospitalization. Social isolation and lifestyle transitions can also cause depression within this age bracket. But all too often, the signs of a mental illness are overlooked in senior adults, barring them from getting the treatment they need.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. If your older parent shows behaviors or symptoms of clinical depression, there are practical actions you can take to assist, encourage and support them. Suffering from depression is often a lonely and overwhelming experience, but it can do absolute wonders for a person’s mental wellness and resilience when they feel less alone. So here’s how to come alongside your parent in battling depression.
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How to Identify the Signs of Depression in a Senior Adult
Before you can reach out to help an older parent navigate their depression, you must be able to recognize this mental illness in the first place. While each person’s journey is unique, it’s still important to familiarize yourself with the most common telltale signs. If your loved one exhibits any of the following patterns, they could suffer from depression:
- Inexplicable mood swings or sadness
- Chronic fatigue and a loss of energy
- Irritability, agitation, or restless behavior
- Lack of interest in favorite pursuits
- Impaired concentration and attention
- Difficulty remembering specific details
- Stress or anxiety when making decisions
- Digestive issues and appetite changes
- Persistent aches, pains, or muscle tension
- Outlook of feeling hopeless or worthless
- Insomnia and frequent sleep disturbances
- Suicide attempts or talk of not wanting to live
What You Can Do to Help a Senior Adult with Depression
A recent study from Frontiers in Psychology reveals it’s not at all uncommon for senior adults to feel a lack of meaning and satisfaction in their daily lives. If this persists over time, it will often cause depression or other mental health issues to take root. However, the research continues, healthy social support, active routines, and robust lifestyle habits can restore a positive outlook.
So here are a few actionable ideas to help lift the veil of depression:
1. Encourage Your Parent to Find Social Connections
Your loved one’s instinct might be to withdraw when a bout of depression hits, but isolation will only worsen their mental health. Humans need regular social interaction in order to feel secure, cared for, and part of a community. Even if your parent seems reluctant initially, they must maintain solid relationships. Encourage your parent to join local clubs or group activities. Offer to help them coordinate visits with friends, neighbors or family members. Connecting with others can ease the loneliness that often exacerbates depression in senior adults.
2. Look for Ways to Help Nurture a Sense of Purpose
Once your parent loses sight of a reason to wake up each morning, it becomes much harder to seek relief from depression. So help them reclaim a zest for living—that clear sense of purpose everyone needs to feel like a useful, impactful, contributing member of society. This will infuse your parent’s life with renewed excitement and vitality. Whether discovering a hobby, learning a skill, volunteering for a cause, or working toward a personal goal, their mental and emotional health will improve when your parent finds that purpose again.
3. Promote Healthy Routines for Eating and Exercise
There’s a direct link between physical wellness and mental stability. This is known as the mind-body connection, and when it’s strong, your parent will start to notice their mood state balancing out. Fitness and nutrition are foundational to physical health, so encourage your loved one to adopt healthy, consistent habits around both eating and exercise. Most senior adults specifically need gentle, low-impact movement, along with protein- and fiber-rich foods such as oats, farro, beans, lentils, quinoa, seeds, nuts, broccoli, leafy greens, or fortified cereals.
4. Hold Space for Your Parent to Talk and Feel Heard
Sometimes the most cathartic gift you can offer another person is a safe outlet to talk about their feelings. Your parent might not know exactly how to articulate what it’s like to have depression, but your willingness just to hold space for them, ask thoughtful questions, and listen carefully to their answers can help soothe those complex emotions. Senior adults are often overlooked, so this is one of the most meaningful ways to communicate to a parent how much you love them. It sounds simple, but validating someone’s experience can make a difference.
Your Parent Does Not Have to Suffer from Depression Alone
If your older parent is exhibiting the emotional or behavioral signs of depression, there are all sorts of ways to offer tangible support. But if you’re unsure what to do, these action steps are an excellent place to start. Mental illness can be serious and affect many areas of life, but it’s crucial for your parent to know they do not have to suffer alone.