As Singapore’s population continues to age, the issue of elderly depression has become increasingly prevalent. We must raise awareness about the mental health challenges faced by our elderly citizens and take proactive steps to address them.
In this article, we will explore the common causes and triggers of elderly depression, identify the signs to look out for, discuss treatment interventions, and provide practical tips on how you can help your elderly loved ones.
Raising Mental Health Awareness for the Elderly People
Statistics show in Singapore that 1 in 27 elderly Singaporeans experience depression, but mental health is often overlooked when it comes to the elderly population. We tend to focus more on their physical well-being and neglect their health’s emotional and psychological aspects. However, it is important to remember that mental health plays a significant role in overall well-being. By raising awareness about the mental health challenges faced by the elderly, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society.
One common misconception is that depression is a normal part of ageing. While it is true that older adults may face unique challenges that can contribute to feelings of sadness or grief, depression is not a natural consequence of growing older. By challenging these misconceptions and educating the public, we can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the elderly.
Common Causes and Triggers of Geriatric Depression
Several factors can contribute to the development of depression in the elderly. These can include:
- Biological risk factors: There exists an increased risk for female elderly patients and those with a family history and a previous history of depression. Genetic factors also play a role in such increased risk.
- Physical health and other medical conditions: Chronic illnesses, pain, or disability can significantly impact an individual’s mental well-being. The burden of managing a long-term health condition and the physical limitations associated with these conditions can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair and trigger a depressed mood and other mental health conditions in an elderly person.
- Loss and grief: The loss of a loved one, friends, or even a pet can trigger feelings of sadness and loneliness. The elderly may experience multiple losses as they age, such as the death of peers or the loss of independence, which can contribute to depression.
- Social isolation: Many elderly individuals may experience social isolation due to factors such as retirement, loss of mobility, or the passing of friends and family members. The lack of social connections and support can contribute to feelings of loneliness and depression.
- Financial difficulties: Economic challenges can be a significant stressor for the elderly. The rising cost of living, healthcare expenses, and limited financial resources can cause anxiety and depression.
- Changes in brain structure and chemistry: As individuals age, there can be changes in brain chemistry that make them more vulnerable to depression. Other mental health conditions that can ultimately lead to anxiety and depression include conditions of mental deterioration like Alzheimer’s Disease, a mental illness characterized by progressive memory loss and inability to perform daily tasks properly.
It is important to recognize that these factors can interact and overlap, leading to a higher risk of depression. By understanding the causes and triggers, we can better support and intervene for our elderly loved ones.
Common Symptoms of Elderly Depression
Identifying depression in the elderly can be challenging, as the symptoms may be masked or attributed to the normal ageing process. Other than an overall presentation of negative feelings, here are some of the early symptoms to look out for:
- Persistent sadness or low mood: If your elderly loved one appears consistently sad, irritable, or expresses feelings of hopelessness, it may be a sign of depression.
- Loss of interest or pleasure: Lacking interest in activities that were once enjoyed, being increasingly withdrawn from social interactions, or declining hobbies can indicate depression.
- Changes in appetite or weight: Significant weight loss or gain can be associated with depression in the elderly. Keep an eye out for changes in eating patterns or loss of appetite.
- Sleep disturbances: Insomnia, excessive sleep, or changes in sleep patterns can be indicative of depression. Pay attention to any significant alterations in sleep behaviours.
- Fatigue or loss of energy: If your loved one frequently complains of feeling tired, lacking energy, or experiencing physical weakness, it may be a symptom of depression.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions: Depression can affect cognitive function, leading to poor concentration, memory loss, and poor decision-making.
- Thoughts of death or suicide: As is with other forms of depression, thoughts of death or suicide, which accompany expressions of excessive guilt and hopelessness, require immediate professional intervention.
Treatment Interventions for Elderly Depression
Once depression is identified in an elderly individual, it is important to seek appropriate treatment interventions. Treatment options may include:
- Psychotherapy: Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), can be effective in treating elderly depression. It helps individuals identify negative thought patterns, develop coping strategies, and improve overall well-being.
- Medication: Medications like antidepressants can help balance brain chemistry and alleviate depressive symptoms. It is important to work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable medication and monitor any potential side effects.
- Social support: Encouraging social connections and support networks can significantly improve the well-being of elderly individuals. Engaging in group activities, joining clubs or organizations, or participating in community events can help combat social isolation and provide a sense of belonging.
- Lifestyle modifications: Encouraging seniors to be active, combined with other healthy lifestyle habits like a balanced diet and adequate sleep, can positively impact mental health. Physical activity releases endorphins, which can improve mood, while a nutritious diet provides essential nutrients for brain function.
Extending Your Help to Your Elderly Loved Ones
If you have an elderly loved one who may be experiencing depression, there are several ways you can offer support and help them have a better quality of life:
- Open communication: Encourage open communication with your loved ones by making them feel heard and understood. Allow your loved ones to voice their feelings and offer help in addressing their concerns without making them feel judged.
- Encourage professional help: Help your loved one understand the importance of seeking professional help. Offer to accompany them to therapy sessions or doctor appointments if needed.
- Promote social connections: Help your loved one maintain social connections by organizing outings, encouraging participation in community activities, or connecting them with support groups for seniors. Alternatively, you can also opt to bring your elderly loved ones to Singapore old-age homes where they’ll be well taken care of and can socialise with other elderly residents.
- Assist with daily activities: Offer practical assistance with daily tasks, such as housekeeping, meal preparation, or transportation. These acts of kindness can alleviate stress and make your loved one feel supported. Alternatively, you can also look for assisted living options to help the elderly function better when doing their daily activities, such as that provided by Retire Genie to our elderly residents.
- Educate yourself: Take the time to educate yourself about depression in the elderly. Understanding the condition and its impact can help you provide more informed and compassionate support.
Understanding and confronting elderly depression is of utmost importance in Singapore, where our elderly population is growing. By raising awareness, recognizing the common causes and triggers, identifying the signs, and providing appropriate treatment interventions, we can positively impact the mental health of our elderly loved ones.
Remember, small acts of kindness and support can go a long way in helping them navigate through the challenges of depression. Let us come together as a society to create a more compassionate and inclusive environment for our elderly citizens in Singapore.