04 Sep No, I’m Not Just Sad About Dying: Fighting Depression in Older Adults
This past month, The Mighty invited writers to share advice on explaining mental health issues to children. This month, I’m taking that concept one step further by sharing ways children can actually help their older parents battle depression and mental dis-ease.
While many assume it’s just “normal” to be sad when we get closer to end of life, the truth remains that depression has become one of the greatest epidemics to hit the aging population. Research shows depression is the seventh most common chronic condition in assisted living, affecting nearly 30 percent of residents. The National Council on Aging says it’s as prevalent as heart failure in aging adults—so prevalent that it’s led to “disturbingly high” levels of suicide. In fact, although adults over 65 make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 20 percent of suicide-related deaths.
Something needs to be done to keep our loved ones healthy—and happy—in the second phase of their lives. The following are just a few things children, family and friends can do to help older adults maintain longevity in the face of depression and mental illness.
Acknowledge. Acknowledge that depression is not a normal part of aging. Yes, many older adults grieve the loss of friends and loved ones, but depression is not a wright of passage into our winter years. It is a health condition that needs to be addressed like any other, from high blood pressure to cancer.
Talk. It’s our responsibility as family and caregivers to notice changes in personality and interests and discuss them openly, without shame or judgment. Numerous simple screening tests for depression are available online. Don’t be afraid of the words, “Have you considered suicide? Have you thought of ways to do it?” They might be hard to say, but they could save a life.
Touch. Oxytocin is an incredibly important part of happy and healthful living. It doesn’t matter where your loved one is living—a wonderful assisted living community or their own home. If they aren’t receiving the gift of touch, they will be at risk for depression. Hug, love, and cuddle the older adults in your life as much as they’ll let you.
Involve. We all need purpose and meaning in our lives. That doesn’t change when we age! Be sure to include older adults in substantive activities and offer them ways to show case their own strengths and skillsets, be it helping you with your finances, strategizing a new business deal, or simply caring for your children. That sense of stimulus and fulfillment will go a long way in combatting depression, and will help battle dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well.
Advocate. If your loved ones are not able to advocate for themselves, do it for them. Make sure their caregiver or assisted living community properly screens for depression and mental illness on a regular basis, and ensure they receive the medication or talk therapy treatment they need to get better.
Parents aren’t the only ones who don’t understand the mental pain their family members are suffering. Children are often in the dark about the mental illness that can accompany—or lead to—chronic disease in their parents, as well. Depression does not need to be a normal part of aging. It’s up to all of us to acknowledge—and address—the risk.