As a member of the “sandwich generation,” or those adults caring for their own families while struggling to help care for their aging parents at the same time, you may be coming to terms with the fact that your mother or father has become more gloomy with age.
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This is normal, right?
While depression in the elderly is certainly not uncommon due to reasons including those outlined below, do not “settle” and take this state as an acceptable or normal way for your beloved mother or father to live. There is help out there.
Common Depression Triggers in the Elderly:
Health problem and medical conditions – As a person’s physical state declines due to chronic illness, surgery, ongoing pain or disability, depreciating cognitive abilities, etc., he or she may become depressed over the situation. Additionally, medication including those for blood pressure and heart conditions may exacerbate these feelings of hopelessness.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation – The elderly are typically less mobile than they were when they were younger. They spend increasing amounts of time home alone. Their friends may have moved or passed away, their social circle has typically dwindled, and it’s possible that they may be widowed at this point in their lives.
Fear – Like anyone, the elderly population has their own fears. A senior may be fearing his or her mortality, he may be worried about his health, or she may have worries about her finances. Perhaps your mom and dad are even worried about becoming a burden on you or your siblings.
Reduced sense of purpose – After an active life, an older person may feel tremendous loss after retirement especially, and wonder what is the purpose of their life? For others, they may see that their children have grown into becoming parents of their own. With no career and a reduced level of activity, an aging person can become despondent.
Recent loss – The death of a friend, of loved one, a spouse, or even a pet may throw an older person into the hollows of grief.
While most people become visibly saddened when they are depressed, often the elderly show their depression without overt signs of sadness. Signs of depression to look for in the aging population include:
• Unexplained or intensified aches and pains
• Memory problems
• Slurred speech
• Neglecting personal hygiene and care
• Loss of interest in social activities and hobbies
• Sleep disturbances
• Fixation on death
• Increased use of alcohol/drugs
If you suspect that your mother or father is suffering from depression, seek help for them. Make sure they have the support they need in the form of regular counseling or group therapy, plenty of stimulating social interaction, exercise and healthy nutrition that you can help them maintain. Perhaps a neighbor near them can check up on them, too, or, if they are in a facility, make arrangements for mom to learn a new skill or have some new visitors more regularly. Mental stimulation – a break from the banality of aging – can do wonders for someone who is feeling down. If mom or dad is still healthy and spry and living on their own, perhaps a trip to the local pet shelter is in order? There’s nothing like a new pup or kitty to make a person feel needed.
If I may be of assistance with you, your mom and/or your dad, please let me know.
All the best,
[Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]