How to Support an Elderly Parent With Depression

If you are the adult child of an aging parent with depression, you may have significant and thoroughly understandable concerns about the situation of your mother or father. You may feel as if you need more information about depression and your parent’s situation. You may also wonder about how you can best support an elderly parent suffering from depression. This article is designed to provide you with a comprehensive review of what you can do when your aging parent is suffering from depression.

In this article, we address a variety of key topics related to depression and an aging mother or father:

  • Common signs of depression
  • Signs of worsening depression
  • Warning signs of suicide
  • Steps to take to support your parent with depression
  • What to do if your parent exhibits signs of suicidal thoughts
  • Selfcare when you have a parent with depression

Common Signs of Depression

Signs and symptoms of depression can vary significantly from one individual to another. With that noted, there are some more commonplace signs and symptoms associated with an aging individual experiencing depression. The list we present here is exhaustive. We want this to be the most thorough resource for an adult with an aging parent suffering from depression. We first consider some of the more commonplace earlier signs of depression. If your parent is suffering from depression, your mother or father may experience feelings that include:

  • Sadness
  • Tearfulness
  • Hopelessness
  • Emptiness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Frustration (even over small matters)
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Insomnia
  • Oversleeping
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Slowed thinking
  • Slowed body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Focus on perceived past failures
  • Self-blame for things that are not your parent’s responsibility
  • Trouble thinking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty with decision making
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Unexplained physical issues

Signs of Worsening Depression

If left unresolved, depression in an older person is apt to become more severe over time. The signs and symptoms of depression already mentioned here remain the same or similar. What happens as depression progresses in an older person is that these symptoms themselves worsen. Ultimately, as depression progresses and becomes more severe, an elderly parent may begin to exhibit signs of suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideations. Suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations and associated warnings signs are discussed in the next section of this article. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, worsening depression requires professional assistance as soon as possible. In this regard, the depression specialists at the Mayo Clinic suggest a consideration of these questions in regard to your older parent who may be struggling with worsening depression:

  • What are the typical signs and symptoms of depression in your relative or friend?
  • What behaviors or language do you observe when depression worsens?
  • What behaviors or language do you observe when your parent is doing well?
  • What circumstances trigger episodes of more severe depression?
  • What activities are most helpful when depression worsens?

Warning Signs of Suicide

Warning signs of suicide include an increase in severity of many of the symptoms of depression initially presented in this article. There are some additional warning signs associated with an increased of suicide in regard to your parent. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are:

  • Your parent begins talking about suicide – for example, your parent may start to make statements like “I wish I were dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Your parent may acquire something that can be a means to attempt suicide, including such things as buying a gun or stockpiling medications
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying, or even violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, which can include eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive acts, which can include misusing drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for why this is being done in the particular manner in which it is occurring 
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

Steps to Take to Support Your Parent With Depression

If your elderly parent is suffering from depression, there are some steps you can take to be supportive of your mother or father. These include:

  • Talk to the person about what you’ve noticed going on and why you’re concerned about the situation.
  • Explain that depression is a medical condition, not a personal flaw or weakness. Explain that depression usually gets better with proper treatment.
  • Suggest seeking help from a professional. This can include a trusted medical doctor or a mental health provider like a licensed counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
  • Offer to help prepare a list of questions to discuss in an initial appointment with a doctor or mental health provider.
  • Express your willingness to help by setting up appointments, going along with them, and attending family therapy sessions if that would prove helpful.

What to Do if Your Parent Exhibits Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

There are a specific set of steps that you need to seriously consider employing if you parent seems to be experiencing suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideations. Suicidal thoughts occur when an aging parent is thinking about the prospect of taking his or her life. Suicidal ideations on the other hand are a parent having an actual plan about suicide and having an instrumentality at hand that can be used to attempt suicide. 

Specific steps to take if you think your parent is at risk of suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideations include:

  • Talk to you mother or father about your concern. Ask if he or she has been thinking about attempting suicide or has a plan for how to do so. As mentioned a moment ago, having an actual plan and the means to carry out a suicide attempt indicates a higher likelihood of attempting suicide.
  • Seek help. Contact the person’s doctor, mental health provider, or other health care professional. Professional assistance is crucial at this juncture. 
  • Call a suicide hotline number. In the United States, you can reach the toll-free, 24-hour hot line of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to talk to a trained and experienced counselor.
  • Make sure the person is in a safe environment. If possible, eliminate things that could be used to attempt suicide. For example, remove or lock up firearms, other weapons, and medications.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if the person is in danger of self-harm or suicide. Make sure someone stays with that person at all times.

Self-Care When You Have a Parent With Depression

Self-care is crucial when you are dealing with a parent suffering from depression. There are 10 particular tactics you can and should employ in regard to your own self-care when you are supporting and assisting an aging parent suffering from depression. This includes a situation in which your parent’s depression is worsening and also when your parent may be exhibiting suicidal thoughts and ideations. These ten self-care tactics are:

  1. Do not lose sight of yourself – do not give up absolutely all aspects of your life to tend to an aging parent with depression.
  2. Care for your body – eat right and exercise regularly.
  3. Keep your caretaker workload reasonable – consider the amount of time you devote to caretaking. 
  4. Ask for assistance – from family, friends, or even professionals as needed.
  5. Establish appropriate emotional boundaries – caretaking can leave you feeling emotionally overwhelmed but setting suitable boundaries prevents that from occurring.
  6. Say “no” more often as a caregiver, you need to avoid overcommitting on all fronts of your life.
  7. Understand what you can control – recognize what is beyond your control.
  8. Remain social – keep up with your own relationships.
  9. Watch your body for signs of being overwhelmed – symptoms include fatigue, negative mindset, and anxiety.
  10. Practice self-compassion on a daily basis – do those things that bring you joy every day.