While nearly everyone will develop a case of the "blues" at some point during their life, feelings of chronic sadness and depression are more serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1% to 5% of the elderly population suffers from major depression. Rates increase to 13.5%, however, for elderly individuals who require home healthcare.
The Dangers of Depression
If you believe an elderly person whom you care about is suffering from depression, you should take a proactive approach to help that person. Some people assume that depression is a harmless condition, posing little-to-no threat to a person's health. But the reality is that depression increases the risk of a variety of diseases, including dementia, stroke, heart disease, cancer, thyroid disorder, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease.
Common signs of depression may include:
- Social isolation
- Irregular sleeping (trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping)
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Declining health and/or loss of desire to maintain good health
What You Can Do
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help elderly individuals who suffer from depression. First and foremost, encourage the person to stay socially active. Whether it's joining a local center for seniors, visiting the park, or playing board games with friends and family, social interaction is key to nipping depression in the bud.
Spending time outdoors can also help combat depression. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays stimulate production of vitamin D while also regulating hormone levels. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between depression and lack of sun exposure.
Don't underestimate the importance of exercise, especially for elderly individuals suffering from depression. Encourage the person to engage in low-impact exercises like walking, yoga or swimming, all of which are excellent choices.