It’s important to be involved with your loved one’s health as they age so you can best assist them with medications, doctor’s visits, and other care needs. While being aware of the physical needs of your family members is essential, it’s equally important to be mindful of the state of their mental health.
Seniors can often suffer from loneliness and depression that goes undiagnosed and untreated. Typically this omission comes from the fact that seniors tend to hide mental health concerns from their families out of guilt or shame. That’s why it’s critical to know what signs to be on the lookout for in senior family members and understand how depression and loneliness manifest in elderly people.
A Serious Epidemic
Shockingly, many people are under the impression that loneliness and depression in old age are a normal part of the aging process. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Loneliness and depression are diagnosed medical conditions that aren’t just a part of growing old, but are part of a serious epidemic in seniors.
Just as with younger people, untreated depression and loneliness in seniors can have severe consequences on both mental and physical health. And, when paired with other health conditions that many older people experience, the symptoms of these mental health issues can have even farther-reaching long-term effects.
Four Unexpected Consequences of Loneliness and Depression
- Higher chances of developing dementia
- Increased medical costs from associated illnesses
- Seniors are more vulnerable to financial abuse when isolated
- Increased likelihood of early mortality
What is Senior Loneliness?
Senior loneliness is a specific type of social isolation that occurs when an older person no longer engages in the world around them as they did when they were younger. This condition often occurs in seniors who live at home and don’t have daily social interactions.
While living at home rather than moving to a senior living community is a favorable idea for most seniors, it can become extremely lonely if transportation and mobility become limited. And, if children and grandchildren are too busy with their own schedules to visit often, older family members can find themselves alone and overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness and detachment.
Signs of Senior Loneliness
- Lack of appetite
- Changes in sleeping patterns, particularly restless sleep
- Increased time at home
- Less frequent communication with family and friends
- Debilitating medical diagnoses
- Despondent attitude
What is Senior Depression?
Like loneliness, senior depression is often the result of changes in health, mobility, or mindset. While it’s reasonable for seniors to have some feelings of anger or sadness about their changing position in life, a serious mental health condition like depression is different than these general emotions and should never be taken lightly.
If you believe a loved one is suffering from depression, speak to them immediately and ensure they have access to the necessary resources should they reach a breaking point, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Depression should never be ignored, even if having a conversation with your senior family member about their mental health is difficult. By being open and willing to listen to them while also being on the lookout for signs that overall sadness has progressed into something more, you can help protect your loved ones.
Signs of Senior Depression
- Overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, shame, or guilt
- Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
- Weight loss or gain
- Lack of energy
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Thoughts of suicide
- Drop in cognitive ability
- Neglecting personal care
How You Can Help
The consequences of senior loneliness and depression are frightening to consider, but the good news is that there is plenty that you can do to help your loved ones. The number one thing you can do is to be there for your family members and make time to check in and visit with them.
In addition, you can offer them rides to social events if you live close by, take them out for dinners and shopping trips, and encourage them to find new opportunities to engage with other people. Socialization is essential for maintaining cognitive and mental health in old age, so doing your part to help seniors stay social goes a long way in preventing and treating loneliness and depression.
If you are still concerned that your loved one isn’t getting the necessary interactions they need to stay healthy, you might want to talk to them about assisted living. Assisted living provides seniors not only with the care services they need to age in place, but plenty of opportunities for making new friends and relationships with other residents.