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Helping with
& Depression

According to Mother Teresa, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”

Loneliness is isolation of both the body and the spirit. It is an emotional state in which feelings of emptiness and worthlessness prevail and a sense of belonging is missing. Loneliness is not the same as being alone – being alone is a choice, where suffering from loneliness is not. Understand the causes of loneliness in order to help your clients:

  • Loss of hearing, which makes communication or phone calls difficult

  • Trouble with movement means difficulty driving, exercising and an inability to care for pets

  • Vision problems make it difficult to read or watch television

  • Widowhood creates a lack of companionship and intimate relationships

  • Physical or mental decline

  • Low income

  • Embarrassment and difficulty in asking for help

  • Loss of contact with people with whom common traits and interests are shared


Many experts believe loneliness leads to depression in the elderly, although some argue it is the other way round. Whatever the order, loneliness and depression are serious problems for your clients, and we have to do what we can to help alleviate the causes and the resulting problems.

Depression seems to follow despair and emotional heaviness, and often results from a feeling of having no purpose in life and losing all hope and joy. Several million senior citizens (aged 65 or older) suffer some form of depression. Depression in the elderly is often overlooked because of the belief that it is a normal part of aging.

It is not.

Depression can lead to serious problems such as illness, alcohol or prescription drug dependence, a higher mortality rate and suicide. Depression may result from:

  • Losses – loss of independence, mobility, health, long-time career or someone loved

  • Loneliness and isolation

  • Social withdrawal

  • Feelings of purposelessness and loss of identity due to retirement or physical limitations on activities

  • Health problems – illness and disability, chronic or severe pain, cognitive decline, damage to body image due to surgery or disease, even loss of appetite

  • Medications – many prescription medications can trigger or worsen depression

  • Fear – fear of death or dying or fear concerning financial problems or health issues

  • Recent bereavement – death of friends, family members, pets, spouse, partner

  • Memory problems and confusion

According to scientific studies, depression can occur without the feeling of sadness. Your clients may complain, instead, of low motivation, lack of energy or physical problems. Physical complaints are often the major symptom of depression in the elderly. Symptoms of depression also may include anxiety or irritability and fretting constantly about money, health and other things going on in the world.

Other clues that point to depression in the elderly include:

  • Fatigue

  • Abandonment or loss of interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes

  • Social withdrawal and isolation – reluctance to be with friends, engage in activities

  • Weight loss

  • Sleep disturbances – difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping or day-time sleepiness

  • Loss of self-worth – worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing

  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs

  • Fixation on death, suicidal thoughts or attempts

  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness

  • Memory problems

  • Loss of feeling of pleasure

  • Slowed movement

  • Irritability

  • Lack of interest in personal care – skipping meals, neglecting personal hygiene


Loneliness and depression harm our clients, and prevent them from enjoying life and the benefits they so richly deserve.

Mother Teresa also said, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.” With that in mind, here’s what
you can do to help:

  • Observe your clients for any signs of loneliness or depression. Report right away. There are medical personnel and medications that can help. Today, no one needs to live with depression.

  • Show love and appreciation to your clients on a daily basis.

  • Listen with compassion and patience. Understand it is often difficult to put individual feelings into words.

  • Some clients may feel ashamed for feeling the way they do and won’t ask for help.

  • Help provide a sense of belonging and meaning to their lives by offering volunteer opportunities, social contacts, social support networks within the community, hobbies, visits, parties, special events, animal assisted therapy.

  • Make sure regular activities are scheduled and your clients attend. You may have to be gently insistent and persistent at first.

  • Be a companion and confidant. Make yourself available, even though you have a busy schedule.

  • Encourage an intake of healthy foods – supplement with special treats if not contradicted. A poor diet can make depression worse.

  • Plan your own one-on-one activity on a regular basis – could be a book reading, puzzle, crosswords or reminiscing. Whatever it is, doing it together is the important part.

  • If caring for someone in a facility, help friendships grow by bringing like-minded residents together for tea, coffee, discussion.

  • Share your moments of life – let them know about your family and what you do ... tell humorous stories and lessons you learn as you go. Do not, however, burden them with your problems ... only share what will peak their interest and what will make them feel a part of you and your life. Lots of times our clients have no support from anyone but you. Can you imagine what that would be like?

  • Listen to their advice and suggestions. Let them stroll down memory lane. They have lived a lot of years and have a lot of good information to share.

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