Depression and Ageing may coincide with life events such as Retirement, the death of a spouse, increased dependence on children, friends, or assisted living institutions, and declining health. Depression in later life is often not diagnosed, or is ignored by doctors. But depression should not be considered a normal part of ageing.
Read this story, by Laura Chapman, on how she helped her parents through bouts of depression.
My two children often used to ask me: “Mummy, what’s wrong with Nan?” And, as they got older and wiser, I had to find new, more accurate ways of explaining why their grandmother wouldn't play with them anymore. It wasn't because she’s old; a life of healthy eating and moderate exercise provided her with great physical health even in her seventies. I had to tell them that it’s her brain – that her brain was ill – and when they retorted with, “well… when will she be better, then?” Saying that I didn't know got harder and harder to take.
It all started when my father died five years ago. One of the leading causes of depression in the elderly is when a huge life change occurs, often the death of a spouse, and this life change knocked her for six. They’d spent every day together for almost fifty years and she said she felt as if a part of her was missing. They’d been together for so long, they were almost the same person.
Me and my husband asked her to live with us and at first interpreted her tearfulness and lack of enthusiasm as the normal symptoms of grief– grief that we were all feeling. However, after a year, when she was still either sleeping all day or not at all, and was barely touching food she’d previously loved, I realized that she might be suffering from something more than normal grief.
Coming from an era which didn’t believe in mental illness, or saw it as weakness, she shrugged off my suggestion that she should see her doctor, leading me to visit my own doctor to speak about her symptoms and get a professional opinion. He recommended, if I couldn’t get her to come in herself, to encourage her to take daily exercise. He suggested daily walks and going with her to try and get her to open up about her grief.
For the first couple of months, her mood seemed to be better, she was sleeping more and her appetite was gradually returning to normal. She still found it hard to open up about how she was feeling but I thought that if she was improving, at least that was something. However, my husband being made redundant resulted in me having to pick up more hours at work and our walks slowly went from everyday, to 3 times a week, to not at all and her symptoms quickly returned. It soon became apparent that my mother had relapsed back into depression and this time it was deeper than before. I asked my husband to go for walks with her instead in his free time when he wasn’t searching for a new job, but she now seemed disinterested and wouldn’t move from the chair in her bedroom at our house.
This time, when I asked her if she’d allow me to make a doctor’s appointment for her regarding her mood, she agreed. She’d lost a lot of weight by this stage so I believe her seeing the physical symptoms allowed her to acknowledge the mental ones. After only a short consultation with her regular, trusted doctor, he decided that my mother was indeed suffering from depression and needed to not only get therapy to talk about her feelings and grief surrounding my father’s death, but she needed to go on antidepressants. She has no other health issues so prescribing effective medication for her was simple.
It’s now been a couple of years and my mother is gradually returning to her old self. It’s hard to believe that she’ll ever be back to ‘normal’ and maybe she never will without my father by her side. Some days, despite taking her medication, her moods are so low I don’t want to leave her by herself and I feel like we’re back to square one, but the good days now outweigh the bad. Depression and ageing are not synonymous, and now I can finally tell my kids: “soon.”
Laura Chapman, quoting the National Institute of Mental Health, states that whilst depression is common among older people, depression and ageing are not synonymous. She has assisted in the preparation of an excellent guide to Living with Depression in older adults.