Are Your Aging Parents Depressed? 5 Warning Signs to Look For

What is Depression?

Whether it’s because of the loss of someone or something we’re grieving, personal difficulties, or simply due to the many emotions that we experience throughout our lives, we all get sad sometimes. It’s a normal part of being human, but when feelings of sadness, ‘emptiness,’ or other negative feelings about ourselves or our lives persist for more than two weeks, then it can be classified as depression. Depression is a serious mood disorder that can change the way we think, act, and feel. Depression seriously impacts quality of life and overall well being, and can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. Depression should always be taken seriously. 

For some people, depression is triggered by negative life experiences, grief, or stress. Others might feel depressed for no discernible reason. Many people have always felt this way, and they don’t know why. Others may develop depression later in life.

Seniors and Depression

Depression is both underdiagnosed and undertreated in seniors in primary care settings. Symptoms are often overlooked and untreated because they co-occur with other problems encountered by older adults, so they may appear to be symptoms of other conditions.

Mental health conditions in older adults are often overlooked, but mental health and well being are just as important in old age as they are at any other time of life. However, ageism affects our society’s perception of seniors. A lot of people think (whether they realize it or not) that older adults don’t have the same needs and wants that the rest of us do, or that they’re not as important, but many seniors are fully contributing members of our society. They work, volunteer, care for loved ones, participate in their communities, and more. And their mental health is important. 

Why Older Adults Are Vulnerable to Depression

When you think of depression, you might not necessarily think of the aging population, but older adults are especially susceptible to depression. Many seniors live alone and, as a result of social isolation, may experience higher levels of loneliness – which can lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. And it’s not just their mental health that’s at risk – social isolation in older adults is linked to a 50% increased risk of dementia, heart failure, and premature death.

Other factors that may contribute to depression in seniors include: 

  • The loss of friends and loved ones
  • Financial difficulties
  • Serious health conditions – about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% of older adults have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses or who are experiencing limited cognitive or physical functioning due to illness or injury

5 Warning Signs of Depression

If you’re concerned that your parent may be depressed and want to help, you can start by assessing the situation. If you’re not sure if your parent is feeling, thinking or acting differently, don’t be afraid to ask! Possible depression is always worth looking into.

Here are 5 common signs of depression in older adults:

1. Persistent Feelings of Sadness or ‘Emptiness’ That Last Longer Than Two Weeks

We all get sad sometimes, but if your parent has been feeling sad or otherwise ‘off’ for at least two weeks, then it might be depression. Sadness is the most well-known symptom of depression, but it’s not always the most common. Often, someone experiencing depression may appear to be as happy or calm as they normally are on the outside, but may be battling troubling thoughts and feelings on the inside.

2. Feelings of Hopelessness, Guilt, Worthlessness, or Helplessness

Like the feelings of sadness or emptiness, this is something you might have to ask your parent about. However, you may notice it. Sometimes when someone is experiencing these types of feelings, they might make a comment in an offhand way (“I can never do anything right!” or “What’s the point? Nothing ever gets better.”) that means more than they make it out to mean. 

3. Loss of Interest in Activities They Used to Enjoy

A symptom that can be more telling than sadness is a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. If your parent no longer seems to enjoy things they used to love – their favorite TV shows or podcasts, hobbies, getting out of the house, spending time with friends or family, etc. – then they might have depression. Depression shows up as apathy just as often as it shows up as despair.

4. Sleep Problems – Difficulties with Falling or Staying Asleep or Sleeping More or Less Than Usual

A key symptom of depression is sleep difficulties. If your parent says that they’ve been sleeping a lot less or more, that their bedtime has changed drastically, or that they’re having problems getting to sleep or staying to sleep, it could be due to depression.

5. Changes in Eating Patterns – Eating More or Less Than Usual or a Significant Unplanned Weight Gain or Loss

Another common sign of depression is a change in eating patterns. If your parent is eating more or less than usual, especially if it seems to be a very small or very large amount of food, then it might be due to depression or a related mental health condition. A rapid weight gain or loss is a delicate situation, so you may feel awkward commenting on it, but it is a cause for concern, so if you notice it, or other food-related concerns, check in on your parent.

Although these are some of the most common symptoms of depression, there are others to look out for. Other potential signs of depression include:

  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive issues that don’t go away, even with treatment

What to Do If You Think Your Parent Is Depressed

If you think your parent is exhibiting any of these signs of depression, please don’t hesitate to check in on them! Depression is a serious condition. It profoundly impacts quality of life and mental and physical well being.

Checking in on them can be as simple as asking how they’ve been doing. Be sure to ask about their feelings about what’s been going on, and to pay attention to the words they choose, as well as their nonverbal communication. If you can, take a look around their home and keep an eye out for any possible signs of a problem, like trash or dishes piling up or disregarded hobbies. And if you think that your parent is depressed or is at risk for depression, talk to them about seeking help. Offer to go with them to be diagnosed or to attend therapy sessions with them. Mental health counseling or medication can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression and increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

If you think your parent is struggling with their mental health, consider moving them into a senior living community. Older adults often experience social isolation, and can benefit greatly from living among their peers. We’ve worked to cultivate a community that gives seniors the help they need, but not at the cost of their independence. Eagle Flats Village is a bustling community of older adults who need a little extra help in their day-to-day lives, but still want to live active and engaged lives. 

Want to know more about what makes Eagle Flats Village so special? Schedule a visit online or by calling us at 940-552-8181.



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