4 Ways to Help a Senior Struggling with Depression or Isolation

October 14, 2014

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Although major depression and isolation are common among seniors, they are far from normal. If you are an adult child providing care for your senior parent, you could play a pivotal role in helping your parent cope with these issues.

What is depression?

Major depression, according to MedicineNet.com, “is a period of sadness, irritability or low motivation that occurs with other symptoms, lasts at least two weeks in a row and is severe enough to negatively affect one’s life.” Depression “is a real and treatable illness.” Isolation often accompanies depression.

Late-life depression, says WebMD, affects about 6 million Americans age 65 and older. Of those, only 10 percent receive treatment.

How to help combat depression and isolation

It can be difficult for any individual to overcome depression and isolation without help from others. As the adult child of a senior who is struggling with these issues, you may have a level of access – allowing you to make a difference – that others don’t have.

Here are four ways for you to help your senior parent combat depression and isolation.

Be generous with your attention/time

Stay connected with your parent any way you can. In-person visits, trips and other outings, telephone conversations, exchanges through email and Facebook, and video sessions via Skype or FaceTime help maintain familial bonds as well as a senior’s healthy outlook on life.

Encourage involvement in community activities

If your senior parent is physically and cognitively healthy, encourage him or her to be a part of the community. Volunteerism is one activity that benefits society at large as well as the volunteer. HealthDay.com reported that:

  • More than 26 million American seniors engage in volunteering.
  • Those who volunteered at least 40 hours each year to a single cause were 40 percent more likely than non-volunteers to be alive at the end of a study conducted by the University of Michigan.

Help your parent maintain social interaction with others

Sustaining ties outside the home is just as important as maintaining a relationship with family members. Interaction with friends old and new, particularly those of roughly the same age, provides common ground that may lead to a deeper level of connectivity. Encourage your parent to join a book or gardening club, take a cooking or foreign-language class, or join a gym or fitness center.

Assist in finding professional help

Sometimes the best way to handle depression is with the help of a medical practitioner. HelpGuide.org notes that treatment can take the following forms:

  • Anti-depressive drugs such as Prozac
  • Alternative medicine such as omega-3 fatty acids and St. John’s wort
  • Counseling and related therapy, including religious and peer counseling, and support groups

Although depression and isolation can be factors in aging, they don’t have to be debilitating or permanent. An adult child who recognizes the warning signs and takes swift action is the best ally a senior parent can have.

For more information on the challenges of aging, download the “Parent Care Guide.”

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