A Surprising Cause of Depression in Older Adults

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Families experience growing concern when they see their aging love one showing complacency, isolating themselves, and not wanting to participate in activities they once loved. Many times an obvious reason does not present itself. One of the most important factors in treating depression in older adults is the caregiver. The main thing they can do to treat or prevent it is to help their loved one re-engage with their community, family and social network. This could be as simple as helping them get back to church or see their friends, as isolation and depression go hand in hand.

The problem is, oftentimes the reason many seniors withdraw and begin to show signs of depression can be directly related to a fear of falling.

The fear of injuring themselves while outside of the home can hold them back from socializing and staying active, no matter how much they are encouraged. Being stuck alone, inside the house can cause an older adult to develop depressed feelings and further remove themselves from the outside world. The idea that a fall will render them helpless or even land them in a rehabilitation situation if they break an arm, leg or hip is frightening. This can be quickly complicated by other apprehensions.

Since falling may not seem directly linked, it goes unrecognized by many family members. However, with simple fall prevention education, they can put their loved one's mind at ease and allow them to continue their lives, preventing the onset of depression.

Below are a few ways to implement a fall prevention program for a loved one:

  • Determine if your loved one is a fall risk by asking about their history of falling.
  • Conduct a home safety assessment. Identify areas where modifications can be made to help reduce falls, such as installation of grab bars in bathrooms and removal of obstacles in the home that can create hazards.
  • If the home is multi level, consider rearranging accomodations to prevent frequent use of the stairs.
  • Install a ramp or a railing for exterior entrances if there are steps.
  • While we can make our homes safer, getting out in public can cause anxiety of a different type. Assist your loved one in rethinking the process of executing steps, particularly if one side is stronger than the other. Many physcial rehab specialists share the 'up with the good' and 'down with the bad' memory tool to assist patients in remembering which foot to lead with as they traverse stairs. Applying this technique will aid them in gaining confidence.
  • Create an open dialogue between you and your loved one, and allow them to confide in you regarding their fears.
  • Encourage community home hosting activities. Many senior centers have groups that are willing to hold their regular gatherings in seniors' homes for the sole reason of accomodating their interests and keeping them active. This can include things like knitting, quilting, art and card playing in groups.
  • Provide them with ways to combat their fear of falling, such as test walks to desired destinations, and encouraging them to exercise in order to strengthen their legs and increase their endurance.

A family caregiver who is well versed in fall prevention and creating and implementing a fall prevention program can build up their loved one's confidence and lessen their chances of being cooped up and isolated. Helping an aging adult feel safer at home often makes them feel more comfortable leaving the house.

Caring Senior Service, a national home care company, is creating a more robust fall prevention program. Specific objectives include:

  • Fall prevention and safety assessments.
  • Exercise programs including Tai Chi Classes. Research has shown that performing Tai Chi, a slow and gentle form of exercise, can greatly improve strength, endurance and balance without worsening existing impairments. The simple ability to feel capable of moving freely adds greatly to their confidence level. Even upper body motions and the strength this provides for those confined to a wheelchair has a dramatic influence on movement.
  • A review of Vitamin D levels as many older adults that are deficient in Vitamin D can suffer from muscle weakness and pain. A proper vitamin D level improves strength and balance.

If your loved one lives at home, a fall prevention program is a necessity for their physical safety and mental stability. Through proactive measures, we can significantly increase the quality of life for the aging adults in our communities.

Jeff Salter is founder and CEO of Caring Senior Service , a national in-home care company. Jeff has over 30 years of experience in senior care and handling caregiver needs.

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42 Comments

"One of the most important factors in treating depression in older adults is the caregiver. The main thing a caregiver can do to treat or prevent depression in a loved one is to help them re-engage with their community, family and social network. This could be as simple as helping them get back to church or see their friends, as isolation and depression go hand in hand."

What about when the depressed older adult IS the caregiver? Why is it assumed that the caregiver is a younger and healthier person?

I have been a caregiver for my husband for nearly twelve years. I absolutely know that for their own well-being, caregivers also (as well as their loved ones) need to be out and engaged in the community. Isolation and depression do, indeed, go hand in hand. But often when an older caregiver does have a brief opportunity to get out, they don't have the energy left to do anything. Also, when you can never reliably make plans with people, it's hard to be social. Even if you have made arrangements for someone else to be with your loved one, sometimes at the last minute the substitute caregiver is not available--sometimes with no notice. Or the loved one is having a new health issue, and they are not safe to leave with someone else. Or maybe you are the one with a health issue, and the last thing on your mind is an outing of any kind.

I just wanted to give a different viewpoint on "a surprising cause of depression in older adults".
My mother wont go anywhere....not to adult day or anywhere. I cant force her so even tho i still bring it up on occasion, one cant force people to do something...not even try it out. So i think sometimes our hands are tied.
My husband doesn't want to leave the home. He wants to sit and watch TV all day. I haven
t taken him out because of ice and snow for the month of FEB. We did get out yesterday to food shop. Not very exciting. He doesn't want to go. He just wants to be at home with me. What about the caregiver's depression. I have about had it staying home all the time. I want to socialize. Now I know why they say the caregiver gets sick and dies before the patient. I didn't believe it. But it is becoming very clear to me. I have a best friend who also never gets out. We would love to actually meet each other but we can't because we both have dependent husbands.