While the holidays can be difficult for those of us who have experienced the recent death of a loved one, or for those of us who feel the loss of loved ones most acutely during the holidays, the weeks and months after the holidays can be even worse.
Depression affects people at every stage of life, but the elderly can be particularly susceptible because of life circumstances, illness and age-related physical changes.
Symptoms of Depression
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, different people have different symptoms, but common characteristics of depression include the following:
- Tiredness or lethargy
- Listlessness or feeling empty
All of us might experience some of those feelings from time to time, but if such feelings persist over several days or several weeks with little or no relief, it’s time to seek professional help.
Other reasons to seek professional help are if you or a loved one are experiencing increased confusion, forgetfulness, insomnia (or sleeping too much), because these, too, can be caused by depression.
Researchers believe several factors, or a combination of factors, contribute to depression, including family genetic history, brain chemistry and life circumstances. For people who experience depression for the first time in old age, researchers say it could be caused by stress, but physiological changes could also be to blame. For instance, researchers now believe that restricted blood flow to the brain, a condition most often seen in people over age 60, can cause what is known as vascular depression. A variety of other medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and MS, have also been linked with depression.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to talk to your physician. There are different forms of depression and some require more extensive interventions than others. It may take time, but there are a variety of treatments that have been helpful to others and could help you or your loved one as well.
If someone you know is experiencing one of the less debilitating, but still extremely difficult, forms of depression, there are things you can do that may help.
The National Institutes of Mental Health recommends:
- Offer support, understanding, patience and encouragement
- Invite him or her on outings, including walks or other opportunities to enjoy nature
- Remind him or her that depression is temporary and eventually things will get better
- Report any comments about suicide to a family member, doctor or therapist
- Check in regularly and listen carefully to what he or she says.
Depression is not a normal part of aging. If you or someone you love is suffering, your family physician is a good starting point for getting help.