Geriatric nursing is a very special calling that requires a lot from its workers. With such a unique population at its focus, elder healthcare often provides challenging situations that can be difficult to navigate. From decreasing physical abilities to often waning mental capacity, the trials of getting older seem to be never-ending. As an elder care nurse, you have the responsibility of attending to difficult medical conditions and peculiar family situations during your relationship with the patient.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges faced by the elderly is the looming depression that often accompanies aging. If you are a geriatric nurse, you might be wondering how you can best help these patients find joy, even when their bodies and minds may not seem to be cooperating. Keep reading for more information on how to help the elderly manage their depression.
Why is Depression Common in the Elderly?
It is estimated that a whopping six and a half million elderly people suffer from depression in the United States. That’s nearly 20 percent of the senior population! Compare that to the national average of 6.7 percent suffering from depression in the united states. If you did the math, you’ll see that the elderly are almost three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general population.
There are a few reasons that depression occurs in the elderly. Many experience a sudden or gradual loss of physical strength. This can lead to them feeling useless as they now need to rely on others for basic necessities like going to the bathroom. They also may no longer be able to do activities or hobbies that previously brought them joy. In the end, they may feel that they are a burden on others. This loss of independence is a primary reason for depression.
Furthermore, many elderly patients live in residential facilities. They may not be visited by people they know very often. The sudden loss of friends and familial relationships and the accompanying sense of isolation can exacerbate feelings of depression.
Signs of Depression
Like the rest of the population that suffers from depression, the elderly will also exhibit some common symptoms. Many of these symptoms can be linked to other disabilities, illnesses, or just getting older, so it’s important to pay attention and look deeper than the surface. The following is a list of the most common signs of depression in the elderly:
- A sudden loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed.
- A lack of personal hygiene.
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- A change in sleep patterns (sleeping more than usual or sleeping much less than usual).
- Weight loss or gain (though loss is more common).
- Change in appetite (eating much more or less than normal).
- Fatigue and lethargy.
Because many of these symptoms can also just be signs of aging, it’s important to keep open communication with the patient. Conversations can often reveal a lot more about the patient’s mental state and mood than simply observing them can.
What to Do About It
There are a lot of things that geriatric nurses can do to help seniors who are suffering from depression. Here are a few strategies that may help ward off depression entirely:
- Have a schedule. Help your patient keep a good schedule for waking, eating, exercise, and sleeping. This will help them keep a regular sleep schedule, which, in turn, will help regulate mood.
- Have them get physical exercise. Physical activity is a great way for anyone to improve their depression. Getting the heart pumping releases much-needed feel-good chemicals that will give the patient a nice mood boost. Be careful to choose appropriate activities that will get the blood flowing but not injure the patient.
- Introduce a new hobby. Depression is the worst when the sufferer is not doing anything else. It’s easy for negative thoughts to sneak in if our minds are not already occupied. Introducing a new hobby or pastime to your patients will help them keep their brains from wandering too far into the dark.
- Help them volunteer. Another proven help for depression is helping other people. When other people find us useful and helpful, we internalize that for ourselves and begin to believe that it is true. Help your patients feel good about themselves by organizing volunteer opportunities or other activities that will benefit others.
- Keep their minds active. Finally, keeping the mind active is essential to warding off depression. Encourage them to read or read to them. Engage them in discussions, ask them questions, play word games with them. An active mind is one that doesn’t have time for depression!
Working with the elderly is a challenging yet rewarding task. As we grow close to our patients it can be difficult to see them deal with depression. By recognizing when they are suffering and then taking steps to help them get out of it, we can help patients live happy and fulfilling lives.