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Caregiver Training Blog

Seniors and Depression - The Signs of Post Holiday Blues

seniors and depression.jpgYou may have heard warnings that suicides among seniors rise during the holiday season. However, this is actually a widely perpetuated myth according to the Centers for Disease Control, based on data from the Annenberg Public Policy Center. In fact, suicide rates are actually at their lowest in December, but they do peak afterward -- a phenomenon which some experts attribute to a letdown from the holidays.

The takeaway for caregivers? The post-holiday months are the perfect time to check in on the mental health of aging loved ones. Here's a closer look at the issue of senior depression, along with caregiver tips for safeguarding the emotional wellness of older adults.

About Seniors and Depression

According to data shared by Mental Health America, more than two million American seniors suffer from some form of depression. Not only can symptoms of depression by triggered by the onset of late-in-life chronic illnesses, but they can also be exacerbated following the death of a loved one. For example, a full third of seniors meet the criteria for depression a month after a spouse's death, with half remaining clinically depressed a full year later.

Depression is a major predictor of suicide in older adults, who make up 20 percent of the country's total suicide deaths. White males over the age of 85 are particularly vulnerable -- with suicide rates just under six times higher than the general suicide rate.

How Caregivers Can Help

Unfortunately, senior mental health often falls through the cracks when it comes to clinical care. This problem has several causes, including the fact that seniors are more likely than any other demographic to believe they can "handle it themselves." As a result, not only are older adults less likely than younger people to mention their symptoms, but they're also more likely to view depression as a "normal" part of the aging process.

In fact, fewer than three percent of seniors are treated by mental health professionals. Even more alarmingly? Primary care doctors accurately recognize less than 50 percent of depression in patients.

Because of this, caregivers can play a vital role in identifying mental health issues in seniors, as well as in helping them get the help they need. According to the NIH, sadness is not always the primary symptom of depression in older adults. Others signs of depression may include:
  • Anxiety or feelings of emptiness
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Feelings of pessimism, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness and guilt
  • Increased fatigue and decreased energy
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Sleep changes, including difficulty sleeping and oversleeping
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Thoughts of death and suicide
  • Aches, pains, and digestion issues with no clear cause and which don't respond to treatment

If you notice these symptoms persisting for more than two weeks, your aging loved one may be suffering from clinical depression so check in with his/her healthcare provider.

Additionally, the SLUMS Examination and Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) are useful tools for caregivers, physicians, and other healthcare professionals.

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The good news? Clinical depression is very treatable, with more than 80 percent of people receptive to medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two, according to the NIH. Caregivers can help ensure that seniors get the mental health care they need by keeping watch for symptoms -- not just during the holidays but throughout the year.

If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.

mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. Access our database of free caregiver training videos for more useful content for caregivers today.

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