Identifying Depression: A Guide for Family Caregivers

Depression can be tough to identify - even in those closest to you. This is especially true if your loved one is showing signs of aging that mimic common symptoms of depression. We're here to help you learn what to watch for and to offer some advice on how to help your loved one accept medical assistance, should it become necessary.

Symptoms to watch for:
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances (i.e. oversleeping or daytime sleepiness)
  • Lack of self-worth, commonly exhibited by worries about being a burden to others
  • Neglect of personal care and hygiene
  • Lack of appetite or weight loss
  • Physical pain such as arthritic pain or severe headaches
  • Slowed movement and speech
What a family caregiver can do:

It can be tough to identify signs of depression, and it can be even tougher to handle a stubborn loved one, who is convinced they are burdening you. So how can you help?

Be persistent, be loving, be empathetic, and let your loved one know you're there no matter what. Everyone needs attention, companionship, and friendship. Also, encourage open communication. Talk about how you've been feeling to see if you can spark a healthy conversation.

What if my loved one won't engage?

An unwillingness to be involved in social activities is a common sign of depression. You can push back by staying in close communication with your aging parent. Call them daily to see how they're doing and make a regular visit schedule. Take them out to shop, eat, relax, exercise or simply sit in the yard and get some fresh air and sunshine.

Focus on individual symptoms:

Regardless of age, most people won't openly admit when they're feeling depressed. Unfortunately, there's no simple fix, but you can focus on individual symptoms to see if there are ways you can help. Insomnia, for instance, can be dealt with by a change in medication, dietary habits, or evening activities. In some cases, if you remedy a symptom that's worsening the depression, you can improve your loved one's overall well-being.

Independence matters:

Try to make it as easy as possible for your loved one to care themselves. This gives them a sense of self-worth that will help eliminate depressed thoughts. Need ideas on where to start? Here are easy and affordable ways to make a home more accessible.

When it's time for medical help:

Depression is a medical condition that you may not be able to deal with on your own. Some signs that indicate a doctor's visit is in order are:

  • Complaints of worsening physical pain.
  • Suicidal thoughts or comments.
  • Increased dependence on drugs or alcohol.
  • Sudden or severe weight loss.
If they don't want to see a doctor:

First, you can ask their current doctor to provide encouragement. A trusted doctor can help your loved one feel at ease with a new person by providing a sincere recommendation and answering questions about treatment.

Try not to blame yourself:

As a family caregiver, it's common to feel guilt when your loved one is feeling down. It's also easy to forget to take care of yourself.

Remember that depression is a common condition that can be brought on by grief, loss of mobility, and even health issues - such as heart disease and diabetes. It's not your fault, and the best thing you can do is love them through it.

Help your loved one through this difficult time by providing a listening ear, appropriate physical assistance and access to medical help when needed.

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