Five Ways to Help a Housebound Senior Ward Off Depression

Posted on: 11 April 2016

Are you are a caregiver of a senior who is unable to leave his or her home regularly? If so, you need to be aware of how depression may affect the elderly shut-in. Feelings of loneliness or isolation are common among seniors receiving at-home care, especially if they are unable to get out and about. Fortunately, there are ways to help ward off depression in such a case. As a caregiver, you might want to follow these five guidelines:

1. Be a Good Listener

A housebound senior may believe his or her feelings are being pushed aside or ignored. Not having someone to talk to who will take those feelings seriously may contribute to depression. Being a good caretaker means more than taking vital signs, so remember to hold a hand and lend a sympathetic ear as needed. If the elderly loved one or patient has concerns or complaints or simply needs to "vent," let him or her know it is fine to express those feelings rather than bottle them up. A healthier approach is to "let it out," whether it means an occasional outburst or a flow of tears. At times, this may be the best medicine.

2. Open Up a New (Online) World

The elderly housebound patient may become depressed due to isolation from the outside world. One way to combat that depression is to help him or her become involved through online communication. Have him or her join a community forum or social media site for seniors with similar interests. Many hobby sites exist, and this is a good way for the individual to become more "connected" with others while pursuing a new interest. He or she may also find support groups online where encouragement and conversation are easily achieved.

3. Help the Individual Maintain Their Independence

Housebound seniors receiving home care may become depressed due to a loss of independence. While it is often in the patient's best interest for the caregiver to make certain decisions, it helps to make the senior feel useful if he or she can contribute. Allow the individual to take part in decision making (if he or she is of a sound mind to do so) and don't exclude the person from everyday manageable tasks, such as doing the laundry or fetching the mail. If he or she has a purpose, depression is less likely to take hold.

4. Consider Pet Therapy

Nurturing a pet has many rewards, especially for an elderly shut-in who must rely on home care. If the individual is able to keep and care for a pet at home, this may help his or her frame of mind. For instance, studies show that owning a dog may help ward off depression, as pets provide companionship and help reduce anxiety for many.

If a live-in pet is not a doable option, consider contacting a local animal therapy organization. Such organizations provide in-home visitations from certified "therapy pets." Animal-assisted therapy provides interaction between a socialized pet and the individual. Therapy animals commonly involve pets of several species, including dogs, cats, and birds. Before introducing a pet into the home, be sure the individual has no medical issues, such as allergies to pet dander.

5. Seek Professional Help

If you recognize signs of depression in the elderly individual that seems to have worsened or if he or she does not respond to any of the above methods, it may be time to consult with the experts. Deep depression that interferes with sleep or causes a loss of appetite should not be ignored. Contact a counselor or mental health professional experienced in treating depression in the elderly to discover more about this topic. This type of counseling may be incorporated into the individual's at-home care and may even be covered through insurance.