From a Caregiver’s Perspective: Warning Signs of Depression

Senior Man Suffering From DepressionDenise McCormick, a 43-year-old mother from Philadelphia., PA, was the primary caregiver for her father, 75-year-old Alan McCormick, as well as her 10-year-old daughter Amber. A single mother, McCormick worked two jobs—as a bank teller during the morning and a waitress in the afternoon. By the time she arrived home each evening, often around 9 or 10 pm, she was exhausted and ready for bed.

“I wanted to take time for myself,” said McCormick. “But I had too many responsibilities.”

At the same time McCormick began to notice her elder father was having a difficult time managing on his own. When she came home, she would find him staring off into the television screen or crying in bed. The elder McCormick denied anything was wrong, so McCormick went to visit her father’s primary physician. “My doctor told me he may have depression,” said McCormick. “I changed my schedule after our visit.”

As a caregiver, it can be overwhelming and stressful when you aren’t sure how to handle situations that arise. Below, McCormick offers five tips that she learned as she struggled to provide for her father.

Five Tips for Caregivers

1. Keep the communication lines open.

McCormick says that she wished she had learned sooner how to communicate more clearly with her father. “I would ask how he was, and he would get angry,” says McCormick. “I didn’t make him feel like I really cared about him, but that I only cared about how he was feeling.”

McCormick explained that she now speaks with her father in a different manner. For instance, instead of talking to him as a child, McCormick changed her phrasing to reflect her respect for her father’s age and position in her life. “By treating him like the adult that he is, our relationship improved” said McCormick.

2. Plan activities outside the home.

“Before my father moved in, he was active at Bingo nights and swing dancing,” said McCormick. “Only a few months after he moved in, he went from going out once or twice a week, to never leaving the television set.”

McCormick began planning weekly activities that her daughter and father could enjoy together. “My father responded well to museums and shows,” said McCormick. “And I started to relax when I realized that he had probably just been lonely.”

3. Be alert for any changes in sleeping patterns or habits.

McCormick noticed that her father would fall asleep in front of the television each night, but wake up only a few hours later. In the morning, he would complain of being tired, said McCormick.

On the advice of McCormick’s father’s physician, the elder McCormick began a light exercise program, which he completed an hour before bedtime. Other activities included reducing the amount of television that he was watching during the evening hours.

4. Don’t expect changes to happen overnight.

McCormick explained that in the first few months of caregiving, she expected her father to go back to being his old self overnight. “I thought he’d be good,” said McCormick. “But it took almost a year for him to go back to his old, more energetic ways.”

The elder McCormick had been used to spending time with his friends and neighbors, and missed the social interaction of his previous peer group. McCormick was able to remedy this by taking her father to a weekly Bingo session, where he was able to use the time to catch up with his friends.

5. Provide a balanced diet.

McCormick says that she gave her father a diet recommended by his physician, which helped him stay healthy, and keep his diabetes in check. “We switched from sugary snacks to sugar-free treats,” said McCormick.

For additional resources about managing depression, resources include the American Psychological Association guide, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mental Health and Aging for more information.

Source: Stacy Lipson is a freelance writer for national and regional publications. She often writes about health, wellness, and green living. Follow her on Twitter @stacylipson.