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Tips for helping older people overcome mild depression

sunshine and the outdoors help mild depression

Depression can affect anyone of any age, but as people age, they can become more susceptible to feeling down. We look at ways that friends and family can help support older people.

As we get older, our lives naturally change – and many of these changes are ones that people welcome with open arms. Many older people can’t wait to retire and do all the travelling they’ve dreamed of, or spend their afternoons reading all the books they’ve piled up in the spare room. Grandkids, outings, long walks, fishing… there can be plenty of reasons for people to celebrate their golden years.

Sometimes, however, life has other ideas. Maybe the bank balance won’t quite stretch to an annual cruise, or the grandkids might end up living at the other end of the country or beyond. And even finishing work is sometimes not the boon many have imagined, as they find they suddenly have an awful lot of time on their hands.

For many people, this period of adjustment goes swimmingly, but sometimes, it can leave people feeling fed up and in need of a little help to rediscover their joie de vivre.

Spotting the signs of low mood
Older people may get out of the house less than they did when they were working every day. If they can’t drive or find walking more arduous, it can become difficult for them to keep up with friends and family. This can be the start of a slippery slope into depression as the less they see of friends, the more depressed they could become and the less likely it is that anyone will pick up on signs of low mood.

The problem is compounded if they put on a brave face when they see friends and family. Your mum, dad or auntie may well feel sad, but could be reluctant to “burden” you with whatever is on their mind.

If you suspect a friend or relative has a dose of the blues, keep an eye on their appearance and appetite. Make sure they’re interested and engaged in the things they’ve always enjoyed doing. If they’re down, they might not focus or sleep well, and they may lose interest in looking after their house or their personal appearance.

Helping to lighten the mood
Many older people will have been brought up to “grin and bear it”, or “snap out of it” if they are feeling depressed, and they might not want you to know they’re struggling. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to open up to a younger person, particularly if they’re related. After all, mums and dads have spent decades putting on a brave face in front of the kids – and they’ve got it down to a fine art by the time they’re in their 60s or 70s.

There are lots of things you can do to help your friend or family member out of the dumps and it’s best to act straight away, before low mood becomes depression – but you do need to approach the problem sensitively:

  • Boost vitamin D by helping them to get enough sunlight. Many people are more prone to low mood in winter due to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you notice that an older person is not going out much over the winter months, it could be both a symptom and a cause of low mood. Lack of Vitamin D is often suggested as a cause of low mood.
  • Ask them if they’re coping and keeping busy, or if they’re feeling frustrated and fed up with their lifestyle. They might not be as comfortable financially as they once were, too, so you may be able to help with small expenses to help get them out and about.
  • Check whether medical problems are weighing on their minds. Getting older generally means getting creakier and they’ll probably be poked and prodded by doctors more often than they used to be. See if a trip to the doctor can put their mind at rest or help them to face a problem head on.
  • Help them keep up with friends. This can become more difficult for people as they age as old friends move away, buy a property overseas or spend their weekends with the grandkids. Unfortunately, it’s the time of life when old friends may start to pass away too, so it’s important to keep up with friends who are still around to prevent people feeling isolated.
  • Often, low mood can be lifted with a simple change or treat. Cook them a meal or pop in with a box of chocolates or a magazine.
  • If you can’t get to see them in person, it’s worth helping them to learn how to use communications tools such as Facetime or WhatsApp to keep in the loop with the family. There is always social media, but it does bring the perils of fake news and scams, not to mention the general grumpiness that pervades much of Facebook and can be mood lowering in itself. Failing those, there is always the telephone, and just to know you’re going to get a call on a regular basis can be really helpful.

Further help
Low mood doesn’t have to develop into depression. There are plenty of ways to ensure your older relative is engaged with life and having their fair share of good days.

Downloading our guide on helping family to avoid loneliness is a great first stop.

There are plenty of opportunities for people to get out of their homes to meet others at lunch and tea clubs. You can find these locally. If your parent is restricted to home much of the time, a telephone club could bring friendship and interest.

If you suspect that low mood is developing into a more serious mental health problem, you can contact Age UK or the mental health charity Mind for a chat.

Photo by Karlis Dambrans on Unsplash

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Liz Laslett
Liz Laslett
3 years ago

I live in Australia but lived in UK until my mid twenties. I am now 75 but found a new lease on life and great new friends by joining Sydney U3A.
I have/am attending sessions in history from Australian to Chinese, learning Indonesian, current affairs discussion groups and creative writing. There is something for everyone and minimal cost. Even Covid has not stopped us with Zoom being a great meeting place. Try it !!

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