Being a caregiver is one of the most demanding roles you will ever take on—you have a lot to contend with. Not only are you battling with your own mental health challenges brought on by such a consuming responsibility, but often times, that of your loved ones. Depression in the elderly is common and understandable – they are dealing with increasing health problems, loss of independence, a shrinking social network and a host of other issues that can be extremely upsetting. As a caregiver, you naturally want to do what you can to ease these feelings not only to make life easier for your loved one, but for you as well. If you think your loved one may be suffering from depression, here are some important things to consider.
Approach the Subject Carefully
This can be a sensitive subject for the elderly for a variety of reasons; one of the main ones being they were raised in a time where mental illness carried a greater stigma or was seen as a sign of weakness. Many may not be willing to admit there is a problem. It is important to approach the subject carefully. Instead of ‘’accusing’’ the person of depression and going right into treatment options, probe a bit by asking some questions to get them to open up, and keep them from going on the defensive. Maybe you can bring up how he has not been sleeping well lately, or how she has not seemed like herself for the last couple of months.
Overcoming Resistance to Treatment
There is a good chance your loved one will be resistant to treatment. There are a few different strategies you can use to help overcome this barrier. First and foremost, stress to your loved one that there is nothing abnormal about their feelings and they are not ‘’crazy.’’ No one is going to suggest a nursing home because he is suffering from depression. Sometimes people are more likely to listen to a health care professional. Instead of insisting on making an appointment with a therapist, bring your loved one to his regular doctor, who can talk to him at greater length about the issue. Get involved in the treatment—offer to sit in on the session or accompany him to appointments.
What You Can Do
When dealing with depression in the elderly, the caregiver can take an active role in recovery. But, it is important to know what you can do and what you can’t. Do not underestimate the benefit of a healthy diet in promoting optimal mental health—poor eating habits can make your loved one feel worse. Commit to preparing healthier foods. Be more insistent on your loved one getting involved in more social activities and going out more—arrange for time at a senior center or plan a day out doing something that she once enjoyed. Make sure he is taking medications properly.
It is important to remember that, as a caregiver, you can only do so much. You cannot force him to get better. Recovery is his responsibility. You should not feel guilty about his condition, it is not your fault. No one in this world is responsible for anyone else’s happiness or lack thereof. It is important for you not to get sucked into the vortex along with your loved one. You may need to set more boundaries as far as what you are willing to do and not do. Her depression should not consume your life; you are not responsible for bending to every whim because of his inability to function.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who blogs about a variety of elder care topics; she is a big fan of Lift Caregiving, which provides a wealth of information for caregivers.