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“Angry Old Ladies” & “Cranky Old Men”
Jim Stinson

By: Jim Stinson on November 9th, 2013

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“Angry Old Ladies” & “Cranky Old Men”

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Caring for a Loved One with Depression

By: Jim Stinson, Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes

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In her mid-eighties, not given to morose thoughts and always life affirming, my mother startled me one day with her comment. She said, “I know more people up there than I do down here.” She gestured toward the sky as she said “up there” and toward the ground as she said “down here” making sure I got the point she wanted to make. Now while I could argue with her cosmology about the location of heaven, I could not argue with her observation. The fact was she had outlived most of her family of origin; and she had outlived most of her friends. Indeed her life had changed dramatically over the previous decade. Her friends were dying with increasing frequency, as were her children and their spouses. She was speaking to a reality of aging. If we live long enough we inevitably watch many of our loved ones and friends die.

“Angry Old Ladies” and “Cranky Old Men”

This fact can, and often does lead to depression, an often overlooked and under diagnosed illness, among the aging. When it is overlooked and under diagnosed we are often confronted with older adults who exhibit behaviors we would recognize more readily in younger people. We meet “angry old ladies,” “cranky old men,” older adults who “just sit home and do nothing,” mothers and fathers who “do nothing to help themselves,” and so on. When we deal with these people we discover how difficult it is to care for them. In fact we often tell ourselves “there is no talking to them, they just don’t want to be different,” and other self-protecting reasons not to try.

Responding to the Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Is there a better way to respond? Are there some hints for those of us not trained to make such a diagnosis since naming the issue is the first step in caring adequately for someone with depression? When suspecting depression, we need to seek professional guidance for the one for whom we care. If a diagnosis of depression is made there are interventions possible. A professional can guide us in this area. While waiting for obvious- it is inviting the person to elaborate on the feeling. (“Mom, I’m sure that’s right. I don’t know how that feels. Would you be willing to tell me more about it?”) Rather than avoiding the issue of difficult depression related behavior, or at best dealing evasively, try listening. It is often the beginning of healing. It happens when someone knows his or her feelings are being validated and that someone else understands.

A Healing Presence

Caring for a depressed older adult, especially a loved one, is challenging at times. But conveying a willingness to want to know and love the person even in that situation can allow you to be a healing presence in his or her life.

Key Takeaways

  • Dealing with loss is part of the difficult reality of aging.
  • For many older adults living with loss, symptoms of depression can be observed in daily behaviors, emotions, and personalities.
  • Caregivers who struggle with responding to a loved one with depression can often offer the most help by simply listening.
  • Inviting a loved one to elaborate on their feelings can allow a caregiver to be a healing presence in their life.

United Methodist Homes- Essential Caregiver's Guide

About Jim Stinson

I first became an ordained member of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church fifty years ago. Through my time with the pastoral ministry, I worked extensively with older adults, many of whom were members of my congregation. I also served as the Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes from July 2002 until my retirement in July 2015, providing guidance and support to residents, family members, and staff. I love reminding people that “old” is not a dirty word and encourage others to adopt a healthy perspective on aging. I am also the author of a book, Just Because I Am Old – A Practical and Theological Guide To Caring, which was recently published in 2014.

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