As many as one in five older people experience depression, here's some information on spotting the signs that an older loved one may be depressed...

Why are older people more likely to have depression?

As we age, there are many more things that might cause us to become depressed;

  • Loss of loved ones,
  • Retirement or a loss of a sense of purpose
  • Health problems such as medications or pain,
  • Less mobility,
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation,
  • Fear of anxiety about finances or falling

Identifying signs of depression in older people 

Signs of depression are fairly common throughout the age spectrum. However, in older people, especially if it’s a family member who you don’t get to see very often, it’s important to be able to spot the signs.

Here are some signs you may wish to watch out for, either when you visit, or when you chat on the phone:

Fatigue and loss of interest

Depression tends to take away your interest in usual activities, you lack motivation and feel drained of energy.

If your loved one has stopped doing any of their usual activites, hobbies etc then this is a strong sign that something is wrong. Although there may be a valid reason such as illness, this needs to be taken into account along with other signs of depression.

If you live far away from your older relative then you can ask about things over the telephone. You can ask things about their usual activities like ‘How was Church this week?’ Enquiring about their weekly activities will help you to understand their life a lot more so that you can tell when things are changing.

Weight loss or not eating as much

If you are not there to notice an empty fridge and cupboard, or that your loved one is losing weight, then ask about what they’ve eaten that day by way of conversation.

Losing weight and loss of appetite in depression is common in older people. Although there may be other factors, such as during winter it can be more scary to go to the shop becuase of icy ground. Your loved one may be less mobile and is afraid of falling. It’s important to discover why they may not be eating as much.

Planning and preparing regular healthy meals will help.

Changes in sleep patterns

Depression can affect sleep patterns in different ways. Many people have a routine of when they like to go to bed, and when they get up in the morning. Depression can make you feel like you want to sleep all day, then you may have trouble sleeping at night. Alternativley, if you have anxiety and are worrying about things then you may be lacking sleep altogether.

It can help to try and stick to a routine and do some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and guided meditations. Watching what you eat before going to bed can help too, ensuring you don’t have anything that is too high in energy.

Anxiety and worries

Your older loved one may have worries and anxieties that caused the depression, or the depression may have made them focus on those worries more. If you notice that the person is more anxious or worried than usual, this could be a sign of depression.

It can help to encourage talking about worries as there may be things that you can help with.

Social withdrawal

Withdrawal from social activities is likely to happen as depression makes you feel like you don’t want to socialise, although socialising can often help as a distraction, or even have you talking about things that others can relate to can help you feel less alone.

If your loved one has totally withdrawn from socialising then they will need to take small steps to get back into it again. Perhaps visitors can help, or spending time once a week at a local cafe, or volunteer for something in the community.

Neglecting personal appearance and hygiene

There can be other reasons for this, other than depression. Often, older people begin to neglect appearance and hygiene because the bathroom can become a scary place if you are quite frail or your mobility is not what it used to be. Fear of slipping or falling may be the reason.

Discuss with your loved one to try and determine if the bathroom needs to be adapted or changed first.

Keep in touch regularly

Things can rapidly change for older people, and if you keep in touch regularly then you will be able to understand the signs. You’ll notice any changes in behaviour, especially if all of these things are included in your conversations.