depressed woman in bed

Gretchen Heuring

Causes for Depression In Older People

By | 07.01.2014


Depression in older people can be disabling for them and they truly can't help themselves. For loved ones, the most difficult symptoms are self-centeredness, and inability to make decisions. Some depressed people simply collapse into themselves and seem to be unreachable. There can be physical sources of depression, but most often the problem rests in the spirit.


Physical Sources of Depression

"This old body is full of aches and pains," we hear this often as our older people move slowly or not at all. Researchers tell us that depression makes all sorts of pain worse.


Of course these days we know that movement is the best thing for anyone. Exercise will definitely relieve depression. Along with exercise, the body needs balanced, nutritious meals and adequate uninterrupted sleep. So how do we coax that stubborn old person to exercise and eat her lettuce? When we exercise and choose healthy foods, the changes take time to mature. For an older person, an exercise program can take months to develop flexibility and balance.


Safety and Security

Fear of falling is a big problem. There may have been a fall, or an almost-fall and now stairs, steps and bathtubs are scary. Of course physical strength through exercise could make a big difference but overcoming fears is something else entirely.


My friend Jane, and her husband Tom, were athletic into their late seventies. They rode their bikes frequently, hiked to beautiful places, and took a ski vacation every winter. Last year, at a stop light, Tom lost his balance on his bike with the toe clips still on. He fell over and suffered a broken pelvis. Now his body has healed but he won't bike or ski or hike anywhere there might be a scramble. He gets dizzy on stairs. His body is well, but his spirit is afraid of falling.


Depression causes other forms of fearfulness. A depressed older person often worries about unexpected and dangerous events. So a predictable orderly world is most comfortable. That spot on the sofa or bed with regular television programs is a source of security.


In her book, The Gift of Years, Joan Chittister says, "A burden of these years is the possibility of giving in to the fear of invisibility, of uselessness, of losing our sense of self and human obligation. Fear tempts us to believe that life is over--rather than simply changing." The truth of her words stings deeply. We actually are older and weaker.


We can find purpose by adapting to change, by finding ways to give all that we have learned and know.


Love and Belonging

Our older person is isolating herself and so doesn't foster needed relationships. Besides that, depression causes feelings of being a burden to others. She may actually say, "I don't want to spread my doom and gloom." She can't see out of her sadness and stubbornly refuses to participate. So there is little opportunity to receive the love and affection she so desperately needs.


Self Esteem

Depressed people often can't say anything good about themselves or recall anything they enjoy. They may have experienced rich full lives with accomplishments, family and friends but their depression forms a barrier to the esteem they deserve to experience. They actually abandon the strong vital part of themselves and feel, in their hearts, that they are worthless. This feeds their desire for isolation.


Finding Self

True self-awareness, or self-belonging, is actually the highest form of our person. It means that we are able to express ourselves with comfort and creativity. We eagerly and openly share with others. This is the place where we should find ourselves in old age, bringing us a sense of peace and wholeness.


The greatest gift we can offer a depressed loved one is a source of help to regain her spirit and grow beyond whatever is enslaving her.



man looking out window

Depression and Memory Loss

Memory loss can be caused by depression. It is as though a cloud of sadness filters out the will to remember even the smallest things. As we grow older ...




You can play the following film full size by clicking on the box outlined on the bottom right corner (next to the words YouTube) It's excellent.


memory loss causes



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book: Learning to Speak Alzheimer's

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (Book & CD)

Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, Jon Kabat-Zinn


Tired man

Ella Traver

You Can Help
Stubborn Older People

By | 07.01.2014


It's astonishing to discover the changes depression makes in your older parent or loved one. The person you have known for so long, who loved you and was so vital and interesting, is now irritable, difficult, and turned inward. This is a painful change and many of us just want to stay away.


If you want to help, you can. Your most important first goal is to coax your person to go to his doctor with you. The three of you need to talk about depression and possible treatments. You can be sure there are other ailments your old person will want to discuss with the physician, but bear in mind that depression makes pain worse, and a treatment plan for depression is your primary goal for this visit.


Depression in older people has quite a few differences from depression in others. There really are things you can do to help.


Listen Carefully. Your old person may not have had the opportunity to put his feelings into words while someone is really listening. He may repeat himself, or beat around the bush. Try to understand what he is really saying and ask if you have it right. Be patient and kind. He is in a negative state so what he says will most likely be negative. Try to sort out the message and sincerely repeat it back again. For example, "You think catsup doesn't taste the way it used to. Maybe the recipe has changed." or "You really miss my brother."


Acknowledge Feelings. Often people are irritable so they won't cry. If he snaps at you, touch his arm or take his hand. If he pulls away, try again one time and then give him a little space. Say something like, "I can tell you are sad." He may correct that and tell you his knees hurt, but he is responding, and you have reached him. Give him a little comforting pat. Touch is so important!


Appreciate. If you are aware of a recent accomplishment, be sure to comment. For example, "You are so good with grocery lists!" Ask him questions about past accomplishments too. Taking him back to successful happy times is a good thing.


Realistic Expectations. You can be sure that recovery will be slow and he's not going to just snap out of this. Acknowledge little steps, like watching a new TV program or movie, walking a bit further, or trying a new food.


Patience and Persistence. Depression causes people to think slowly. Your old person needs time to think about the possibilities and alternatives. Take baby steps and keep on acknowledging, appreciating and loving! One day, he will think about himself a little less and you a little more. He will be getting better.


Bite Your Tongue. He won't take advice and it will create mistrust between you. He needs to find and own his solutions. Instead, ask him what he thinks will make things better. He may not answer right away, but you can bet he will think about it.


Shambhala Publications Inc.