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Depression in older adults

Thankfully in today's society mental health is much more recognized than it has been in the past. We tend to focus on mental health in the younger generations, most likely because of social media. But, the older adult population suffers from mental illness, specifically depression, just as much and the younger populations.

While researching for more data on older adults with depression, there were very few studies performed compared to younger generations. I did find a very interesting article of a small study performed in a nursing home in Pennsylvania. The article was published through Catholic Health Association of US and was written by Dr. Jules Rosen, a psychiatrist. I encourage you to read it fully ,but if you are more of a cliff notes person feel free to keep reading.

Dr. Rosen has 30 years as a geriatric (older adult) psychiatrist, mostly treating depression among residents in long term care facilities. She reports about 20% of all nursing home residents have severe depression and an additional 30% have significant depressive symptoms. This means every other resident in a nursing home has some severity of depression. You may be thinking, just give them some anti-depressants! Well, they have and they have not found significant improvement in their symptoms, not to mention the negative side effects associated with the medication, including an increase risk for falls. Jules and her team hypothesized that there is a large number of residents who are depressed because of the significant change in their social life, their environment and just their every day living.

Here is how they set up the experiment:

  • They found 32 residents in one nursing home who all were currently being treated for depression. ( some had mild to moderate dementia)

  • About 50% of these residents had been on anti-depressant medication for 4 weeks.

  • Medication was not added or altered during this study.

  • They asked residents or their families a certain activity they really enjoyed to do or would love to do again. They then planned how to set up these activities and how often they would be performed with the nursing home staff.

    • Some residents were avid card players and a game was set up for them twice a week.

    • Another resident spent most of his adult life playing golf. They brought in a putting green and gave him a club to practice once a week.

    • Another resident had never missed a Steelers football game but since moving into the home had been avoiding the games stating ; "Watching the game alone is no fun." The team arranged a room for him and his family, as well as other residents, to gather together and cheer on their favorite team.

  • This continued for 6 weeks.


  • Prior to this experiment, they had not noticed any change in these residents' depression.

  • After the experiment, they noticed about 50% of residents had a complete resolution of their depressive symptoms.

  • Several other residents had partial improvements in their symptoms.

  • They then observed all the same patient's for another 6 weeks and unfortunately their depression returned because the facility and staff were unable to maintain a schedule for the specific activities.

Think about your daily routine, your weekly routine. What are the things or activities you look forward to the most? It could be going for a walk in your neighborhood park, going for a Sunday morning drive or something as simple as sitting in your favorite chair reading the newspaper. Think about not being able to meet your friends out for a coffee date or quickly drop by their house to say hi. Now think about those "simple" things being taken away from you. That is what it would be like to move into a nursing home. I think anyone that would experince such a drastic change would become a little depressed, don't you? People tend to forget about this population and assume that these residents aren't depressed but that they are just "old". Society has formed a normalization around this indifferent attitude towards older adult's mental health and I hope this blog may change at least one person's perspective.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home right now and feel like they may be suffering from depression, here are some ideas you can do to help them improve their mental health;

  1. Make their rooms "homey"

    1. Pictures from home

    2. Their favorite pillow or blanket

    3. A familiar scent (perfume or cologne)

    4. Hang drawings on the walls!

  2. Move their favorite furniture into their room

    1. Of course ask the facility first!

  3. Provide them with their favorite snacks or drinks in their room so they can still independently eat on their own time.

    1. Once again check with the facilities' policy and ask about any dietary restrictions.

  4. Provide them with activities they enjoy!

    1. Cards, board games, word puzzles, puzzles, knitting

    2. teach them how to use an iPad so they can have everything in one and facetime you as well!

  5. Encourage them to participate in the facility run activity center!

    1. they usually send out calendars of monthly activities.

    2. The activities department is also a good department to reach out to if you have concerns about the amount of social interaction your loved one is experiencing.

  6. Visit often!

    1. an in-person visit is invaluable!

    2. If you are able to and if the facility allows, take them out for the day! Something as simple as a drive with the windows open can do wonders!

The full article

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