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They Are Aching For Your Love: Here’s How You Can Help An Elderly Person With Depression

Being old is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not a vacation from life’s duties and responsibilities and worries, in fact it is anything but that. Growing old is not always about doing the things that you always wanted to do but couldn’t; it’s not always about checking off things from your bucket list; and, it’s definitely not about having one last wild adventure with your fellow geriatric buddies as the movies make it out to be. Old age, especially in today’s times, can make one feel quite lonely and miserable.

Suggested read: What Living With Depression Everyday Feels Like

Ours is a generation that jokes and makes memes about death and dying. We’re edgy and our humor is dark. We’ve learned to channelize our deepest anxieties and fears into self deprecating jokes which act as a rather useful, albeit unhealthy, coping mechanism. A friend of mine once joked, “Life is the leading cause of death.” While we have our nihilist memes and our dark humor to deal with life, coupled with our fast-paced schedules that keep us nose-deep in work; have you ever stopped to wonder how the elderly cope with the anxieties of death and the miseries of whatever little of the life that remains?

sad old person_new_love_times

Image source:  Google, copyright-free image, under Creative Commons License 

The structure of the family is constantly in a state of flux and reformation. We hardly get to see large families comprising the young and the old and those in between living together under the same roof. Gone are the days when children grew up with their grandparents as well as their grand uncles and aunts, and spent their time with them. In today’s society, families are nuclear and often lonely. Both parents are busy with their professional lives trying to provide the best for their children, while the children grow up in daycare centers, crèches and finding solace on the internet when they’re too old for that.

The elderly on the other hand, are left to live a life of nothingness. Having fulfilled all their duties and responsibilities- towards their profession, family and children- there isn’t much to look forward to in the life of an individual who is well past their glory years. Their health starts deteriorating, along with their reasons to live a fruitful life. Moreover, with very few people left to share their time with, it’s not a surprise that so many elderly people fall prey to depression. Depression also affects their physical health and vice versa.

sad man_New_Love_Times

Image source: Google, copyright-free image, under Creative Commons License 

Statistics are boring, but they help to underscore the gravity of issues and have a stronger impact than words. Before continuing on the issue of depression in the elderly population and finding solutions on how to help an elderly person with depression, here are some numbers to understand just how grave this problem is.

According to a World Health Organization Fact Sheet (that was last updated in December 2017),
1. Mental health and neurological disorders account for 6.6% of the total disability among older adults.
2. Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and above suffer from a mental disorder.
3. The most common of these mental disorders are depression and dementia, which affect approximately 7% and 5% of the world’s older population respectively.
4. Anxiety disorders affect 3.8% of the world’s older population.

Due to the lack of mental health awareness among most people, signs of depression in an elderly person are dismissed away as the general repercussions of being old. As individuals grow older, they become shrouded in a feeling of loss, one that is of several kinds. This includes the loss of their peers and those they love, loss of their own health, loss of mobility and bodily freedom, loss of professional commitments and the sense of purpose that accompanies it. To react to these losses with grief and pain is a normal and healthy reaction.

Suggested read: 9 Essential Things You Need To Know When Loving Someone With Depression

However, it is important to know the difference between mere feelings of sadness and clinical depression in such situations. In case of sadness, one still is capable to experience pleasure, have good days, laugh and have positive emotional reactions to positive stimuli. Depression, on the other hand, is long-lasting. In the case of clinical depression, one is incapable of experiencing moments of happiness or pleasure. Feelings of helplessness, emptiness, hopelessness and despair are constant, and extinguish all signs of joy from the individual’s behavior. Moreover, since the elderly have limited activities throughout the day, this gives them more time to brood on such unpleasant thoughts that, if left unchecked, might often lead them to have suicidal feelings and tendencies.

I’d like to share a personal experience I’ve had to illustrate this point further:

(trigger warning)

 My language teacher in high school was this strict old woman. She used to teach from classes 6 through 12 and never missed a day of class. She was always cranky and easily irritable, but we all were well aware of how much she adored her students. Apart from teaching in our school, she also looked after her granddaughter at home while her son and daughter-in-law went to work, and took tuition classes as well. A few years after she retired from school, she had to give up teaching because her health wouldn’t permit her to do so. Also, since her granddaughter was a bit older, most of her time was spent in school. It was the day before our language exam in the 12th grade, when someone in school announced that she had committed suicide. Later, her family found a suicide note that said that she had been lonely and that she didn’t have anything to look forward to in life.

The onus lies on us to look out for the signs of depression in the elderly members of our families and to ensure that immediate treatment and care is provided to them for the same. We all have fond memories with our grandparents and, grand uncles and aunts. The least we can do to honor all that they have done for us when we needed them is to be with them as they struggle through the last lap of life.
Here is a list of some ways on how to help an elderly person with depression:

  1. Talk to them

This is by far, the easiest solution and requires the least amount of effort. All of us have memories of our grandparents telling us fairytales, stories of their childhood, their life experiences, among other things. They have given us valuable advice whenever we needed it, and have helped shape us into the persons we are. In return, the least we can do for them is to talk to them. Even calling them from time to time and letting them know about what we’re up to is enough to make them feel like they matter and that they’re still as involved in your life today as they were when you were a six-year-old.

Talk to them about your friends, tell them stories from your work, and share your secrets and fears and embarrassing stories with them. Grandparents have always been great at keeping secrets from our parents, haven’t they?

younger woman talking to an older woman

Image source: Shutterstock

  1. Listen

Even though it might seem like they don’t have much going on in their lives, old people still have a lot to say. In fact, the older they get, the more things they have to say. Listening to them will make them feel like they are still relevant; the fact that there is someone who is still willing to listen to them is sometimes enough to make them feel wanted, important and useful. And who knows, you might actually learn a great deal about life from all that they have to say.

  1. Help them regain interest in their hobbies

All elderly people, at some point or the other in their lives, had a hobby or were interested in something or the other. But with the burden of age, they might have forgotten about such hobbies and interest, and feel that they are incapable of doing them. One of the ways on how to help an elderly person with depression is to help them regain that interest and drive. Reintroduce them to books by lending them some of yours; help them with gardening once a week or so; get them supplies for knitting and other crafts; help them get enrolled for any class they might be interested in. In this way, not only do you get to help them out with something, you also get to spend quality time with someone who loves and cares for you deeply.

  1. Go on walks

Walking is healthy no matter what your age is, and is an activity that almost anyone can take part in. It’s also a great form of exercise requiring minimum effort, and the fresh air acts as a refreshing change from the insipid indoors. If their physical health doesn’t permit them to walk too much, then even sitting in a park can help uplift their spirits and their health too.

Suggested read: Difference Between Anxiety And Depression And How They Manifest For Someone

  1. Just be nice

older couple dating_New_Love_Times

Image source: Google, copyright-free image, under Creative Commons License 

Remind yourself, time and again, of the times when your grandparents were the ones taking care of you, without a single grimace or frown on their faces. It doesn’t take much to be nice to people, and goes a long in making them feel loved, cared for and wanted. Even if you see an elderly stranger out on the streets, smile at them or help them out if they seem like they need it. Little things like these go a long way in making them feel less lonely.

The world is full of old people who are aching for love, and tired of living in isolation. According to a WHO report, between 2015 and 2020, the number of old people in this world is supposed to rise to 2 billion from 900 million. Today, even the younger generation with its constant social media presence and connectivity is lonely and miserable at the end of a tiresome day. There is a rise in mental disorders in both the young and the old, due to this lack of communication and compassion between human beings. If we all just do our bit in making each other feel less lonely and being kind to each other, then the world would be a much, much less lonelier place to live in.

Featured image source: Google, copyright-free image, under Creative Commons License 

Article Name
A Guide On How To Help An Elderly Person With Depression
Depression can be crippling, whether you are old or young. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to help an elderly person with depression.
Sanjukta Bose

Sanjukta Bose

I'm 18 years old. I enjoy reading, writing, and watching good movies. I'm passionate about words, food, and music. I'm slightly introverted but I enjoy the company of people too. On weekends, I like to stay up all night reading poetry. Slightly awkward with a nihilistic sense of humor.