Three Approaches Caregivers Can Take For Treating Depression in the Elderly

For years, Betty had suffered on and off from small bouts of depression. One winter, though, she found herself deep in the thick of it. She’d been living on her own since her husband’s passing a few years prior, and was battling loneliness and grief after losing her spouse. The rest of her family didn’t know what to do. Betty had tried medication prescribed by her doctor, but it didn’t seem to be helping enough on its own. Sensing the need for further help, her doctor suggested a great therapist who specialized in supporting older adults. This—along with a few carefully chosen activities—eventually helped Betty feel like her old self again.

Mental Concerns With AgingFor years, Betty had suffered on and off from small bouts of depression. One winter, though, she found herself deep in the thick of it. She’d been living on her own since her husband’s passing a few years prior, and was battling loneliness and grief after losing her spouse. The rest of her family didn’t know what to do. Betty had tried medication prescribed by her doctor, but it didn’t seem to be helping enough on its own. Sensing the need for further help, her doctor suggested a great therapist who specialized in supporting older adults. This—along with a few carefully chosen activities—eventually helped Betty feel like her old self again.

Approaches to Depression That Might Help Your Loved One

Inherently challenging to treat, depression is something that, sadly, many older adults struggle with: the National Alliance on Mental Illness “reports that more than 6.5 million Americans over age 65 suffer from depression.” Fortunately, there are a variety of approaches when it comes to alleviating depression in the elderly. Whether practiced in tandem or in lieu of pharmacological efforts, any or all of these three options could help your loved one find relief.

Talk therapy with a specialist

Speaking with a therapist who specializes in senior mental health can be can helpful for your aging loved one. Professional counseling is often successful with older adults who might otherwise feel uncomfortable expressing their fears and anxieties with family members or friends. Not only that, but “experts say that seniors generally have a higher satisfaction rate in therapy than younger people because they are usually more serious about it. Time is critical, and their goals usually are well defined.” Therapists who work exclusively with elder patients are skilled in offering support. Talk therapy can be especially good for older adults struggling with suicidal thoughts, addiction, behavioral issues, or depression fueled by loneliness or isolation.

Expressive arts therapy

There are many different types of creative therapies, including art, drama, dance, and music. During the aging process, finding outlets for creative expression can easily be overlooked and forgotten. Aging expert Barbara Bagan explains that “expressive arts, including visual arts, music, dance/movement, writing, and poetry, are empowering tools that can assist in the aging process. Similar specifically designed art activities may serve as therapeutic interventions for those individuals diagnosed with chronic diseases.” Whether your aging loved one enjoys making art, playing music, exploring drama, or engaging in authentic movement, activities like these might offer them the emotional release they need. Expressive arts therapies are known to enhance emotional connection with others, self-esteem, relaxation, cognition, and support living with illnesses like dementia.

Social and physical activities in nature

Exercise, socialization, and nature are known to have a positive effect on older adults’ emotional and mental well-being. Researcher Jessica Finlay further shares how spending time outside can help lessen depression in the elderly. “Accessibility to everyday green and blue spaces encourages seniors to simply get out the door. This in turn motivates them to be active physically, spiritually and socially, which can offset chronic illness, disability and isolation.” Moreover, she says, “while simply visiting these areas can be beneficial, participating in activities that incorporate their natural features is even better. Seniors who take part in activities such as swimming, fishing, and hiking are doing even more to promote self-health.” Ideas for activities can be as simple as going for a walk with friends or family, participating in a nature-oriented senior program, or joining a group that enjoys something like bird watching each weekend.
Depending on what options you pursue, check out local offerings in your community for helping with senior depression. Ask friends for recommendations for talk therapists, art therapies, and outdoor activities for older adults, or contact your local community center and aging organization. With so many different treatments for depression in the elderly, it’s hopeful that your aging loved one will be able to find one or two that work for them. And no matter what approach they decide to go with, be sure to talk to their doctor to get a clearer picture of what treatments might be best. Coping with depression is stressful; understanding the roots of elderly depression and knowing your options can help you support your loved one to take steps forward.  
If you want to discover how you can offer your loved one more support, Institute on Aging offers a wealth of compassionate resources to help. Connect with us today to learn more.

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