Spotting signs of depression in the elderly and how you can help

Depression affects more than one in five people in the UK and is more common among the elderly.

It can be particularly prevalent during the dark winter months and around Christmas and New Year, when it seems that everyone else is enjoying themselves or too busy with the preparations and is especially likely among those who perhaps are less mobile and who live alone.

Spotting signs of depression

Among older people there are some physical symptoms such as tiredness, weight loss, and problems sleeping.

Other symptoms can include:

  • lack of interest and inability to enjoy things the person normally enjoys
  • being reluctant to engage in usual activities or leave their house
  • feeling tired
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • loss of appetite or eating more than usual
  • losing or gaining weight over a relatively short time
  • withdrawing from social activities

Life events, such as money worries, bereavement, retirement, the onset of a disability and the time of year can all play a part in triggering depression in the elderly.

Depression in the elderly

How you can help

Offer your support, listen and reassure them that how they’re feeling can be improved. Call or visit them regularly and if the symptoms seem severe or showing no signs of improvement encourage them to make an appointment with their GP or another health professional. You can also offer to go with them to appointments.

Keeping active and healthy is important, and you can help by planning occasional outings to get them out of the house.

Introducing them to clubs and activity groups you think they might enjoy, whether it be a regular yoga class, a reading group or something more active like country rambling.

Treatments that can be offered by professionals

Apart from prescribed anti depression medicines, which may not be the best option, especially if the person is already taking other medications, there are treatments such as talking therapy. These treatments allow the patient to talk to a trained professional who can help them to manage thoughts and feelings and the effect they have on mood and behaviour

It is important to mention to the health practitioner any cultural, language or religious needs or any hearing or sight problems when arranging this kind of therapy.

Teaching them muscle relaxation techniques may also be a help.  This should be carried out by a trained practitioner.

It is important to remember that elderly patients might be reluctant to talk about their feelings or fail to understand that physical symptoms can be a sign of depression. For elderly people living independently, isolation can make it difficult to reach out for help.

More information on depression can be found on AgeUK