How to help an older adult with depression
The very nature of depression interferes with a person’s ability to seek help, draining energy and self-esteem. For depressed seniors, raised in a time when mental illness was highly stigmatized and misunderstood, it can be even more difficult—especially if they don’t believe depression is a real illness, are too proud or ashamed to ask for assistance, or fear becoming a burden to their families.
If an elderly person you care about is depressed, you can make a difference by offering emotional support. Listen to your loved one with patience and compassion. You don’t need to try to “fix” someone’s depression; just being there to listen is enough. Don’t criticize feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. You can also help by seeing that your loved one gets an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Help your loved one find a good doctor, accompany them to appointments, and offer moral support. See How to Help Someone with Depression.
Other tips for helping a depressed elderly loved one
Invite your loved one out. Depression is less likely when people’s bodies and minds remain active. Suggest activities to do together that your loved one used to enjoy: walks, an art class, a trip to the movies—anything that provides mental or physical stimulation.
Schedule regular social activities. Group outings, visits from friends and family members, or trips to the local senior or community center can help combat isolation and loneliness. Be gently insistent if your plans are refused: depressed people often feel better when they’re around others.
Plan and prepare healthy meals. A poor diet can make depression worse, so make sure your loved one is eating right, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and some healthy protein at every meal.
Encourage the person to follow through with treatment. Depression usually recurs when treatment is stopped too soon, so help your loved one keep up with their treatment plan. If it isn’t helping, look into other medications and therapies.
Watch for suicide warning signs. Seek immediate professional help if you suspect that your loved one is thinking about suicide.
Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.