Assisted Living: Helping A Senior Loved One Cope With Depression

Posted on: 18 March 2015


Assisted living senior care is an increasingly popular way for seniors to keep some of their independence and privacy when their health becomes a daily issue. Thousands of people now live in specialist facilities, but this lifestyle can bring new health challenges, including problems with anxiety and depression. If your loved one now lives in an assisted living facility, learn more about the challenges that depression can bring, and find out how you can help him or her cope with the symptoms of this debilitating condition.

What research suggests

Research suggests that depression is a relatively common problem for seniors living in assisted care homes throughout the United States. A study in 2003 looked at 2,078 residents over the age of 65 in 193 facilities in four states. The study found that 13 percent of the residents were clinically depressed, but more than 33 percent of the participants suffered one or more of the symptoms this condition can cause.

The nature of assisted living brings unique challenges. Senior residents are more likely to become depressed because of their living conditions. Causes of the problem include:

  • Medical comorbidity - the cumulative effect that multiple illnesses and problems can have
  • Social withdrawal – some residents rarely have visitors
  • Psychosis and agitation – it's often difficult to adjust to a more confined way of life
  • Length of residence

Worryingly, studies also show that residents with severe depression have a much higher rate of death. As such, it's important to take steps to make sure your loved one doesn't suffer the symptoms of depression.

Recognizing the symptoms

It's important to understand that depression is not a natural part of aging. Short periods of sadness or anxiety are relatively common (and understandable), but depression is not a condition that seniors should have to live with. That aside, seniors are at higher risk of depression because they are more likely to have chronic or serious illnesses.

When you visit your loved one, stay alert to the signs and symptoms of depression. These signs include:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Worrying about things
  • Tearfulness
  • Weight loss
  • Problems concentrating
  • Staring into space for long periods

It's important to develop a regular schedule of visits with your loved one. This structure helps you get a feel for what is 'normal' in the resident's life and can help you spot changes sooner. If your visits are random or haphazard, you may overlook signs that are otherwise obvious.

Making sure your loved one gets the care he or she needs

If you suspect your loved one has depression, you should encourage him or her to see a doctor. Find out if your loved one has a preference. He or she could visit a family doctor, a general psychiatrist or a specialist geriatric psychiatrist. Your loved one is likely to feel some anxiety at seeing a healthcare professional, so you should make sure you can attend the appointment and give your ongoing support.

It's often difficult to find a way to talk to your loved one about the problem. He or she may become defensive or more withdrawn, so you should exercise tact and discretion. You may find it easier if you talk openly about your own feelings first. This can help the other person understand that you sometimes feel the same way. Specific questions about diet, mood and interest levels can help, but approach the subject carefully and ask open questions. For example, instead of asking why your loved one has not eaten his or her dinner, start with a conversation about the foods he or she enjoys eating.

You may need to develop a joint approach with other people. Compare notes with other family members, your loved one's friends and even staff members at the facility. In these cases, you can often share insights and ideas that will get professional help for your loved one more quickly.

Applying what you know

You are in a unique position to help your loved one because you have shared so many personal experiences. Staff members can apply their skills, but they don't know what you know about the resident. As such, it's important to think carefully about times and events that can have special significance. For example, seniors often struggle with Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries, particularly when they have lost a spouse, sibling or child. As such, it's important to make sure employees at the facility are aware of these issues.

Don't underestimate how hard it is for your loved one to cope with seemingly common issues, too. For example, tragic or disturbing news stories can have a profound effect on seniors, particularly if there is a link to a personal experience. When timing is an issue, take extra steps to look after your loved one.

Depression is a serious problem for seniors living in assisted care. If your loved one lives in an assisted facility, stay alert to the symptoms of this condition, and take steps to make sure he or she gets the necessary care and support.