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A resident is depressed

Q. One of my residents is very depressed and I can’t seem to make her feel better. What can I do?

A. Depression is as common in older adults as it is in younger adults. But it looks different to the type of depression we are used to seeing in younger adults.

Older adults will have changes in their sleep (more disturbed and more of it or less of it), changes in appetite (more or less), weight gain or loss, energy loss, feelings of hopelessness and despair, tearfulness and thoughts of suicide. They may also have multiple medical complaints. Your resident may well be depressed.

S/he may also have the withdrawal and apathy that is common when people have dementia. Some people with dementia show signs of depression in their low energy or motivation.

They need our motivation to get them going and that can be very tiring on staff. They are unable to get themselves started and need us to do it for them.

If your resident is depressed you need to ask her how s/he is feeling. Most people will tell you even if they have moderate to severe dementia. Simply ask, “How are you feeling Mary?”. Then you must listen for what she says and watch non-verbal cues. What she says will guide your supportive actions. If she is sad she may need someone to sit and listen. She may be lonely in which case she may benefit from you moving her to the lounge more often for brief periods or walks or outings with other residents. You may be able to pair her up with a fellow resident who has similar interests and background.

You may not be able to change her but you can show her compassion and understanding by your care for her.

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