Recognizing depression in our aging loved ones

Published 10:00 pm Monday, January 9, 2017

Welcome to a New Year that may hold some wonderful changes and surprises for all of us.

With the holidays and family visits now over, perhaps it’s time to reflect on some of the things or situations we may have noticed, particularly with our aging loved ones.

While you were visiting, did you notice that one of your family members seemed “down” or didn’t show much interest in some of the joys of the season, or wasn’t enjoying the family meals? If so, that person may be dealing with depression, and it’s important to know that depression is not a normal part of aging.
Most of us have, as we have gotten older, experienced the loss of loved ones, illness and some feelings of loss of usefulness with retirement. For some, the holidays tend to lead to feelings of melancholy about people and places of our past.

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It’s absolutely normal to feel sadness and sometimes grief, but healthy people adjust and begin to enjoy life again, usually within two to three weeks. Chronic depression does, however, interfere with the ability to rebound from loss and disappointment and can slow or prevent one’s life from returning to what we’d call normal.

It’s important to know that depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It is a medical condition that interferes with daily life and normal functioning. Many older adults with depression need medical treatment to feel better. Unfortunately many of those affected with depression are often unwilling to admit they suffer from it.
If during your visit you noticed your loved one showing any of the following signs and symptoms continuously, it may be time to suggest or assist them in seeking medical help.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or unintended weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

If you noticed any of these signs, it may be time to talk to a doctor or to a mental health professional. In some cases, a member of the clergy may be able to offer therapy. Depression can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, exercise, or alternative therapies. Sometimes treatment requires a combination of therapies to treat an individual’s depression.

As a family member or caregiver, one of the most important things you can do is to keep a close eye on your loved one and his or her improvement, or lack thereof, through therapy. Doing nothing is not a good course of action.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on He may be contacted at 828696-9799 or by email at