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Depression in Older Adults

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Depression is a condition that causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness that do not go away. The person may lose interest in things he or she used to enjoy. Depression is common in older adults, but it is not a normal part of aging. Treatment is very important and can help improve the person's daily life. You can help support the person by encouraging him or her to work with healthcare providers to manage depression.

DISCHARGE INSTRUCTIONS:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You hear the person talk about harming himself, herself, or someone else.
  • The person has done something on purpose to hurt himself or herself.

Call the person's therapist or doctor if:

  • You think the person's symptoms are not improving.
  • You notice new signs, or the person tells you he or she is having new symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about the person's condition or care.

Where to go for more help if you think the person is considering suicide:

The following are available at any time:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
  • For a list of international numbers: https://save.org/find-help/international-resources/

Medicines:

It is important for healthcare providers to know about all medicines the person is taking. This will help providers know which medicines to recommend for the person. He or she may also need help setting up reminders to take the medicine each day.

  • Antidepressants may be given to improve or balance the person's mood. He or she may need to take this medicine for several weeks before he or she begins to feel better.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Therapy

is often used together with medicine to relieve depression. Therapy is a way for the person to talk about his or her feelings and anything that may be causing depression. Therapy can be done alone or in a group. It may also be done with family members or a significant other.

What you can do to help the person manage depression:

  • Call, visit, or send postcards to the person often. Check on him or her after the loss of a spouse, longtime friend, or pet. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can be difficult for a person after a loss. The loss of a spouse can be painful and lonely for older adults who were married a long time.
  • Help the person connect with others. Encourage him or her to become involved in the community. Some examples include tutoring a young student or volunteering at a local organization. The person may need help setting up a computer or creating an e-mail account to help him or her remain connected to others. You may also be able to help set up a visit for the person with his or her religious or spiritual leader.
  • Encourage the person to try new things. This can help the person find new interests or meet new people. It can also help prevent him or her from focusing on depression.
  • Help the person get equipment that will increase his or her comfort and mobility. Examples are hearing aids, glasses, large print books, and walkers. These can help him or her enjoy activities and feel more independent.
  • Encourage the person to continue taking medicine and going to therapy. Medicine and therapy can help improve his or her mental health.
  • Help the person exercise safely. Exercise can lift his or her mood, increase energy, and make it easier to sleep. If possible, offer to exercise with the person. For example, you may want to schedule walks with the person. He or she may enjoy going to an event, such as an art exhibit or a museum. If the person is not able to walk, he or she may enjoy an exercise program done in a chair.
    Chair Exercises for Seniors
  • Encourage the person to seek help for drug or alcohol abuse, if needed. Drugs and alcohol can increase suicidal thoughts and make the person more likely to act on them.

Follow up with the person's therapist or doctor as directed:

The person's healthcare provider will monitor his or her progress at follow-up visits. He or she will also monitor medicines if the person takes antidepressants. The provider will ask if the medicine is helping. Tell him or her about any side effects or problems you notice in the person, or that the person mentions. The type or amount of medicine may need to be changed. Write down your questions and the person's questions so you remember to ask them during the visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.