It’s easy to think that feeling down is just part of life, especially when someone is older. While an occasional blue day doesn’t really cause for concern, ongoing depression isn’t normal or healthy. Here’s how to tell the difference, and what we seniors can do to feel better.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Seniors
There are certain symptoms that often tell us someone is depressed. Things like a hopeless outlook, irritability, sadness, and trouble sleeping are common cues. However, Harvard Health Publishing explains seniors sometimes experience very different symptoms than younger counterparts. Manifesting in more physical ways, these are called stealth symptoms. Among other things, seniors might have issues such as heart palpitations, nausea, dizziness, or tremors.
On top of these difficult-to-see symptoms, seniors often have co-existing health conditions. This includes things like cardiovascular disease, psychosis, and dementia. In the course of dealing with those issues, depression is often missed. Those who take medications for things like hypothyroidism, or who have a vitamin B deficiency, might experience depression-like symptoms as well.
It’s easy to miss depression in older adults. Thankfully, there is much that can be done for seniors suffering from depression.
How to Seek Help With Depression
There are important medical treatment options available to seniors who are suffering from depression. Sometimes antidepressants or other medications are used to treat symptoms, and sometimes it’s best to see a therapist, social worker, or other mental health professional. Sometimes seniors are concerned about the cost of getting help, but fortunately, Medicare covers several mental health services options.
As CNBC explains, seniors are often unaware of the options available to them through Medicare. Beyond Traditional Medicare, there are expanded coverage options covering things like prescription drugs, dental care, and vision and hearing exams. It’s important to check into what is available because plans change each year, and seniors can make changes during the Open Enrollment Period. The Open Enrollment period runs from October 15 through December 7 annually.
It’s important to note that money isn’t the only hurdle that can hold seniors back from getting help. People are often ashamed or embarrassed about needing assistance with an issue such as depression. However, the most important thing is to ensure older adults are well and happy, and help is available in a variety of forms. For those suffering from depression, it’s crucial to understand that it’s better to reach out than it is to continue feeling bad.
Enjoy Self-Care to Curb Depression
While it’s best to connect with a professional for depression, there are many things seniors can do on a daily basis to ensure they maintain the best possible mental health. Many of these actions are cornerstones of self-care, but they are still easy to miss. In fact, three self-care basics – proper nutrition, physical activity, and social engagement – can be directly related to depression in seniors.
Thankfully, there are simple actions seniors can take to enjoy better self-care in each of these realms to help avoid or heal depression.
Eating for Mental Health
One basic essential for all ages is proper nutrition. While some might think diet has little to do with mental health, the two appear to be closely linked, particularly in seniors. Vitamin deficiencies, financial concerns, and chronic illnesses can all interrelate with poor diet and depression.
With that in mind, seniors suffering from depression can often benefit from diet-related changes. For instance, including colorful and flavorful superfoods in meals can be a boon. Aim for foods like spinach, oatmeal, broccoli, and blueberries for their nutrient-dense properties. For those who have a restricted budget, there are food assistance programs to help them get the nutrition they need to stay well.
If it seems like meal planning is just getting too complicated, there are free apps available to help older adults with everything from grocery shopping to balancing their diet to monitoring water intake. If a smartphone is out of someone’s budget, there are assistance programs providing free phones to those who qualify. And if a smartphone is out of someone’s comfort zone, seniors can take a free class locally to get accustomed to the ins and outs of today’s gadgetry.
Activity and Mental Health in Seniors
Another simple self-care basic is exercise. We usually associate fitness with physical health, but some studies indicate adding more physical activity to a senior’s lifestyle can help reduce depression. For those seniors who are not used to exercise, try adding just a little more movement to each day, rather than expecting a heavy-duty workout program right off the bat.
Senior exercise can be solo or group-oriented, at home or gym activity – it doesn’t really matter, so long as individuals find fitness opportunities they enjoy, look forward to, and can participate in on a regular basis throughout the week. This can be as simple as going for walks around the block with a pet, doing some chair yoga in the living room, or playing volleyball with a beach ball at the gym.
Staying Connected and Involved
Older adults often become isolated. In fact, some studies indicate as many as 1 in 3 seniors feel lonely on a regular basis. That loneliness can contribute to a number of health issues, including depression. It also appears to raise seniors’ risk for heart attacks, anxiety, strokes, and early death. Because of all this, it’s critical for seniors to stay socially connected and involved with their families, friends, neighbors, and community.
Sometimes seniors have health concerns that keep them from getting out and about. Maybe they are afraid of falling, or they don’t like to drive. There are often overlooked transportation options, such as community taxi and shuttle services, to help seniors go places. Engaging with social media is an option for those who are homebound, and sometimes local faith and/or government services provide support and visitation as well.
Because options are so varied, an individual’s Area Agency on Aging can provide details on what services are available in particular locations.
It’s not unusual for seniors to experience depression, but it’s neither normal nor healthy. Thankfully, there are resources available to seniors, and there are simple actions they can take to enjoy better mental health. If you or someone you know is suffering, know there is help. Depression might feel insurmountable, but there is hope.