Depression is classified as a mental illness that requires professional treatment including counseling and medication to alleviate symptoms. While it is normal for everyone to feel down from time to time, sadness that lingers for more than a couple weeks at a time can be an indicator of deeper issues. Clinical depression could be the culprit behind your senior’s moodiness. Detecting and treating depression is difficult enough in most individuals, but in seniors, the process can get tricky. If you are truly worried about whether your senior has depression, the first step should be to get in contact with a mental health professional in order to create an action plan.
How to Diagnose Depression in Seniors
The hardest step to take in getting treatment for depression is making the initial decision to seek help. Sometimes, the best way to get past this step is to simply schedule an appointment with the family doctor or primary care physician for your senior. When a senior is able to have an appointment with a PCP that they know and trust, this can make it easier for the patient to approach the subject of mental health and be honest.
During this check up, the doctor will likely ask about symptoms and find out if there are any other medications they are currently taking that could impact their behavior. They may also perform a physical exam to see if the symptoms could be impacting their day to day life or if the depression is related to a physical illness or injury. From there, your physician will likely make a referral to a mental health counselor, a psychiatrist, or geriatric physician.
Everyone needs somebody to talk with. Your physician will likely refer your senior to a mental health practitioner for therapy. While antidepressant medications may be prescribed following this meeting, therapy is usually the first stop and the go-to solution for resolving ongoing mental health issues. There are many different therapeutic modalities that work differently for different people. For some seniors, support groups may be the route to take, especially if they are dealing with great changes such as moving or the death of a loved one.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are two other modalities that have proven to be useful for helping patients work through negative thinking and improving mood. In therapy, your senior’s clinician will likely prescribe their own mix of approaches to create the best therapy they can provide. The best approach starts with being honest about your goals and working with licensed professionals.
Antidepressant medications can help improve concentration, elevate mood, and increase appetite. If your senior care provider prescribes a medication, there are several options to choose from. Many doctors will start with SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors such as Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, or Zoloft. SSRIs produce fewer side effects in comparison to other antidepressants.
Another type of antidepressant that has shown effective results are SNRIs, or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors such as Effexor, Pristiq, and Cymbalta. These are similar to SSRIs, but they also affect the transmission of norepinephrine, another chemical in the brain. Some antidepressant medications can take up to 12 weeks before they reach full efficacy. If your senior does begin taking medication for their depression, it’s important to get regular follow ups with their primary care physician to monitor how the medication is working.
If your senior is aged 65 or older, the CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes of medium to intense Aerobic activity a week. Aerobic activity is any exercise that increases our heart rate for an extended period of time. Building endurance makes the heart stronger and in time your senior will begin to see positive changes in health and mood. To get started, it’s important to approach all exercise gradually. To build aerobic endurance, they should begin with small walks or jogs. Once they’ve reached a 30 minute walk without feeling winded, they will be prepared to move on to more rigorous aerobic activities. For the best results, it’s important to make sure their heart rate is getting elevated at an acceptable rate.
Caring for a Pet
Some people assume that having a pet is just a fun way to spend time and a cute accessory to have around the house, but pets can actually be great friends and have been shown to provide a comfort system. Some pets will produce a chemical chain reaction in their owner’s brain that helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol and increase production of serotonin, the feel good chemical. Pets can also reduce blood pressure and stress level, fight depression, lower cholesterol, and protect against heart conditions!
If your loved one does not suffer from dementia or a related illness, they can spend some of the free time dedicated to giving back to their community through local charities, fundraisers, homeless shelters, and more. The great part about volunteering is that you don’t have to invest a ton of time to make a huge impact on people's lives. Simply showing up, showing support, and talking to people is enough to help someone through difficult times and show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Studies show that people who spend time actively volunteering once a week are less prone to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and cardiac problems. People who volunteer generally report feelings of being happier as well. Seniors who volunteer have the chance to be social, be active, and be invested in the well being of their community.
Are you looking into a senior living facility for your family member that will support their senior health? Landmark Senior Living is available today to take you and your loved one for a tour at one of our seven premier and affordable communities. Call now for more information!