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Depression in the Elderly is Often Mistaken for Dementia

by Renee Marcus on 5/19/14 1:11 PM

Depression in the elderly is often mistaken as dementia. Dementia is caused by problems with different areas of the brain. In the early stages and even middle stages of dementia, the patient may appear to be depressed, but caregivers usually brush it off as a symptom of dementia. This is not uncommon as dementia and depression-elderlydepression usually produce basically the same symptoms which include:

  • They display negative emotions (helplessness, worthless)
  • They have a negative view on/of almost everything
  • They distance themselves from others
  • They are uninterested in most things
  • Crying
  • Sleeping more than usual - requesting go to bed earlier and stay in bed longer
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • They display a lack of energy and motivation
  • They have little to no sense of direction

Many caregivers do realize that their patients may be depressed. However, if the individual is in a nursing home, rest home, long-term care facility, or assisted living facilities, the caregiver may simply believe the individual is lonely.

For the elderly population loneliness is very common especially if their spouse has passed away. Even though their children still visit regularly or as often as they can, it is very difficult for the patient to find the same type of happiness they had with their spouse.

Once the individual’s physician has diagnosed the patient with depression, the caregiver can start to provide the proper care the patient requires.

The physician will usually prescribe an anti-depressant medication to help with the depression. There are numerous things the caregiver can do in addition to help the patient through their depression.

Build a Relationship with Your Depressed Patient

Allow your patient to talk about their family especially their spouse if they are deceased. This will help them to remember the good times. If they are reluctant to taking about their spouse, gently encourage them to tell you stories about their life and inevitably their spouse will come up in conversation.

How does this help your depressed patient? Believe it or not, this is a type of talk therapy (which physicians and psychiatrist recommend to their depressed patients of all ages.) Once the patient has opened up and is talking, they are on their way to healing.

I have found that many times it is easier to talk to a stranger, for lack of a better word, than a family member or friend that knew the patient’s deceased spouse. Maybe the patient has been holding something in for years and just needs to get it out; the caregiver is not likely to judge as where a family member or friend is likely to pass judgment.

Support Group

Start a support group in the facility for your depressed patients. It will allow the patients to talk with others who are going through the same thing. A support group will also encourage social interaction with the depressed patient most likely not even realizing it.

In time, the patients will look forward to going to the support group, whether to talk about why they are there in the first place or to enjoy the company of others who are in the same boat as them.

Your Time is a Priceless Gift to Your Depressed Patient

Give your depressed patients as much of your time as you can. I understand you’re busy and have a lot of patients to care for in the facility, but try to make time. Set aside 15 minutes every day you work to spend with the patient. This will build trust and increase their happiness. If you are not able to spend quality time with your patient and the facility has volunteers then maybe a program can be implemented, so the depressed patients receive special time with a friendly face.

Before you know it your depressed patient will be back to their old selves and if you want to talk to them you’ll have to hunt them down!

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