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Recognizing Depression in Seniors

When I first came to the US from Canada, I couldn’t legally work under my husband’s visa, so I did the next best thing and I volunteered.  With a degree in Psychology and a passion and experience working with seniors, I approached The Mental Health Association of Fort Bend County.  The Senior Director took a shine to me and invited me to tag along with her to visit local senior centers to do something called depression screening.  I was intrigued.  

Once a week we’d visit an assisted living facility.  For some of the residents we were the only visitors they would get.  We met in the common room, putting our chairs in a big circle. Through conversation, we would be looking for signs like disheveled hair or poor hygiene, aloof body language, or lack of participation; all signs of depression.

We’d casually ask each person “what they did this week” knowing there were plenty of physical, social and event activities for them to choose from.  This gave us insight as to what, if any of these activities they participated in, and we learned to read their tone and body language as to their degree of happiness, social interaction and thusly, their mental well-being.

As in every senior population there were often cases where the participants couldn’t attend due to health issues, doctor’s appointments or possibly a visit from their family.  That was expected.  What we were more concerned with was when we noticed that one person often didn’t show up at all, and was maybe being too much of a recluse:  a classic indication of depression. Once that was identified, that person was given a private visit to determine the underlying cause and to try and rekindle their interests in life.

It was an eye-opening experience to see how simple acts of “checking in” was usually all it took to let these folks know that someone cared.  In most cases, depression can be prevented if we just take the time to be with our seniors, listen to them reminisce or share their wisdom and life stories.  They don’t have to be our kin, but they do deserve our love, time and attention. We all need to feel validated, at every age, heard and loved.  Depression can be overcome with these simple acts of kindness.  Afterall, God willing, we will all be in their shoes one day.

Written by Heather Langlais