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If It’s Not Happy or Merry?

I explained in an earlier post about why we refer to Holidays in the plural, and how we are working to be inclusive of all people’s end of year celebrations of faith.  That was the “Holidays” part, but what about the “Happy?”  The holidays are also a period of rather widespread unhappiness, if not outright depression, and it’s even more common among our older loved ones.  How often have you heard comments like: “Oh, mom is just a bit blue;” or “Her husband died six years ago during the holidays…she should just snap out of it;” or “He just likes his time to himself during the holidays.”  They are all ways to discount what is something of an epidemic among older adults in America today: depression…an epidemic that has exploded during the present and ongoing pandemic.

If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, the symptoms may be slow to show themselves, but depression is a real medical condition to be addressed every bit as much as dementia or heart disease.  Adults 65 years of age and older may only be just 16% of the population, but they account for 18+% of suicide deaths.  Inexplicably, suicide rates for most older Americans have trended down during the pandemic, but depression is substantially up. Older adults with depression have healthcare costs 50% higher than non-depressed adults.  And depression is common – more than seven million older adults manifest some degree of clinical depression each year.

Where should you look for depression?  I mentioned widowhood at the beginning.  Well, one-third of widows and widowers meet the clinical criteria for depression within the first month after losing a spouse.  And half of these are still depressed a year later.  Depression also is a classic comorbidity of a number of medical conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and even cancer, arthritis and heart disease.  But the prevalence of depression is really just an opportunity to take action.  The data show that fully 80% of depression in older adults can be effectively treated with either medication or talk therapy or a combination of both.  If you are a caregiver to an older loved one, however, encourage them to see a mental health professional who can offer the best of both medical and talk therapy.  About 55% of older adults who do seek help for their depression reportedly go to their primary care physicians.  While your loved one’s personal physician may prescribe, they are not schooled in talk therapy.

If you suspect an older loved one in your orbit is depressed or maybe just down, consider the holiday gift that actually does keep on giving.  Give your older loved one your personal time…and consider the installment plan…the plan that includes a whole calendar schedule of giving into the new year!

Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia. 

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