According to the Singapore Longitudinal Ageing Study in 2012, one in five seniors in Singapore exhibit signs of depression. With this trend on the rise, we explore how we as caregivers can prevent the onset of depression in our loved ones and support them in their battle against depression.
Depression is a medical condition that negatively affects the way we feel, think and act. It is estimated that one in 16 Singaporeans deal with this condition at some point in their lives, with older adults being more susceptible to this condition. The cause of depression can be due to a multitude of factors but it is preventable and is definitely not a normal part of ageing. Without proper treatment, depression can severely affect our day-to-day functioning and lead to a range of emotional and physical problems.
Besides medical intervention, there are other measures we as caregivers can take to help our loved ones prevent and cope with depression:
1. Lead an active lifestyle
Endorphins are our bodies’ “happiness maker”. They are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress or pain, and boost happiness. Exercising releases these endorphins in our body, making us feel positive. With regular exercise, it can even help fight depression and lift moods.
Social activities, such as community yoga and taichi, can be doubly beneficial. Besides being a mood booster, group exercises can prevent social isolation – a risk factor that increases the likelihood of developing depressive symptoms among older adults.
As family caregivers, we can join in these activities which are commonly found in our neighbourhood Community and Residential Centres together with our loved ones. While we keep depression at bay, we are also giving our bodies a good workout.
2. Build a support system
A large proportion of Singaporeans aged 60 and older reported feeling lonely even when living with family. This is a worrying observation as loneliness is a common risk factor for depression and other health conditions.
Caregivers must understand that mere physical presence does not equate to companionship or support for their loved one. Even for those living together with their loved ones, dedicating time to interact and engage our loved one is necessary for relationship building.
One way we can support our loved ones with depression is to put in place a support system where family and friends are there for them on a regular basis. When interacting with them, it is also important to practice compassionate listening by encouraging them to open up and speak about their concerns, making it clear that you are there to listen without judgement and will always love, support and be there for them.
3. Entrust them with a responsibility
Whether it is managing the care of a pet or simply watering the plants, entrusting our loved ones with a meaningful responsibility can help them rediscover their sense of purpose in life, which has proven to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being.
This can also take the form of picking up a new hobby they are interested in. Through setting and achieving these milestones in their learning journey, our loved one can feel a sense of accomplishment, which helps in coping with depression. Social pastimes, such as chess or line dancing, can even have the added benefit of reducing loneliness and social isolation.
4. Encourage them to seek treatment
The social stigma against mental conditions may prevent individuals from recognising and seeking treatment for depression. This mindset is more prevalent in the older generation who grew up in an age where people with mental conditions are shunned due to a lack of general understanding of mental conditions, with many believing that people with mental conditions are dangerous or cursed. While it may be difficult to shift their mindset and convince them to recognise the need for treatment, this is an essential step towards their recovery.
Start by gently presenting the idea to them. Have an open discussion and help them connect the dots about their symptoms and recognise that they may have depression. Once they have come to terms with the diagnosis, make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist so they can seek professional medical advice and get the care they need in a timely manner.
5. Consider home care
Depression can make getting out of bed feel like a chore and stepping out of the house an uphill task. Unwilling to leave their homes, these seniors may be unable to seek help and neglect their personal care.
Professional caregivers who are trained and understand their condition thus become a reliable source of help. Through home care, these seniors can receive the help and support they need in their activities of daily living. Furthermore, by visiting these homes, caregivers and nurses can identify issues and triggers that may contribute to the depression and advise suitable treatment accordingly.
Self-care always comes first
Caring for a loved one with depression is never an easy task. Having a good understanding of depression and interacting with other caregivers who are caring for someone with depression are useful ways to help caregivers better navigate their caregiving journey.
If you feel overwhelmed, try taking a step back and have some respite from caregiving. Take some time to recharge by reconnecting with friends or engaging in relaxing activities such as going for a run. One simple relaxation exercise you can do anytime is to sit in a quiet space and take deep, slow breaths for a few minutes.
Most importantly, do not feel guilty when you take time off to do something for yourself. Always remember that to have the capacity to care for someone else, you need to take care of yourself first.