Understanding Depression in the Elderly

When it comes to depression, most of us underestimate the issue. It’s not something you can see on the outside and it’s not something most people tend to advertise. So, while most of us are aware it is a problem, few realise its true impact.

This is especially the case with the elderly. As a demographic not only are they prone to depression but are also a group that are often less visible to the rest of society. In fact, half of people aged 55 and over say they have experienced depression.

The effects of depression on the elderly

As well as underestimating the scale of the issue, we can also underestimate the consequences of depression in the elderly. It can cause a wide variety of physical symptoms like constant tiredness, lack of sleep and loss of appetite, as well as feelings of hopelessness, a lack of self-worth and even suicidal thoughts.

It’s important to understand that depression isn’t merely feeling down from time to time. It can be a serious medical condition that can utterly overwhelm a person’s life. On top of that, depression and anxiety – something that can be just as devastating – often goes hand-in-hand, creating a dreadful whirlpool of negative emotions that, for the person suffering, can seem impossible to overcome.

We’re not saying any of this to merely be bleak for the sake of it, but we think it’s important to comprehend both the severity and the scale of depression. With all that said, there’s a final thing that we underestimate when it comes to depression, and that’s the number of things we can do about it.

One of the most unpleasant things about depression in the elderly population is that the symptoms of the illness make the person suffering unable to think clearly about their situation. Depression in elderly people by its very nature promotes negative thinking. That means if your loved one is suffering and has told you it is hopeless, just remember that is not a rational conclusion.

Just as when a depressed person often feels very alone with their condition, despite all evidence to the contrary, we can see that is not true. Therefore, the sufferer’s thoughts on their chances of getting better and the reality can be absolutely worlds apart.

How to help elderly patients with depression

Of course, in order to understand how to help with depression, we need to understand the causes. The tricky thing here is that there is no single cause for depression. Just like our experiences and our minds are all different, so are our reasons for feeling depressed. That’s why at Melrose, our approach to residents is always, and always will be, on an individual basis.

With that said, it is undeniable that some causes for depression are more common than others, and there are reasons why older people have such a significant issue with depression.

For instance, age comes with the likelihood of more physical problems and often discomfort. One thing we do to help with this is provide classes like yoga to help improve physical health in a relaxing environment. Massage is also something we have found refreshing for residents. Similarly, depression after surgery in elderly people is also very common, which is why we offer convalescence care alongside our long-term options.

Another issue older people often face is loneliness. We do everything we can to provide a wide range of social events at Melrose so that there are plenty of opportunities to meet new people and to do so through activities that are of interest to that individual.

How Melrose work to tackle depression

One of the most important things we do at Melrose Nursing Home is talk to the resident, find out about their lives and discover what they enjoy doing on a personal level. For example, one individual got involved in the knitting group at Melrose after expressing an interest, which developed from knitting for the premature baby unit.

As well as coming together and forging friendships through shared interests like this, our residents also have the opportunity to share their stories with others. The ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ project with schools has allowed our residents to reminisce and pass on some of their knowledge and experience to a younger generation.

Another example of the importance of this individual approach is how we helped a resident who didn’t enjoy getting up for physio. To encourage her, the physio started to bring in her dog to help improve the mood of the resident and give an incentive to get up and ready. In fact, we found that our residents generally enjoy the company of animals, so several members of staff started bringing in their pets to help lift everyone’s spirits.

These are just a few of the ways we are always trying to improve the quality of life of our residents and to find solutions to the root causes of any and all mental health issues. There’s no magic formula and, of course, everybody is different. But just as there are countless reasons why someone can be depressed, there are also countless ways of helping to lift someone out of their suffering.

The only true constant is that the only way to tackle depression is to do so on a person by person basis. And the only way to achieve that is through care which has the individual at the heart of everything.