How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Seniors with Depression and Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, can have a significant impact on combating anxiety, depression, insomnia, and several other mental health disorders. CBT offers an alternative to seniors that may be concerned about interactions with other medications. Learn how your loved one can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy today!

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is a form of psychotherapy designed to help individuals positively change their behaviors. During sessions, a licensed psychotherapist works with your loved one to identify the problems they face and determine the actions they can take to solve them. A therapist can also help your loved one become more self-aware and allow them to take control of their thoughts when distressed. CBT can lead to sustainable improvements to your loved one’s mental health over the course of several weeks and months. Learning coping mechanisms during therapy sessions can significantly reduce the risk of depression or anxiety returning in the future.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

Seniors are more at risk for developing depression if they already have another chronic illness. Almost 30% of seniors lived alone according to the 2010 U.S. Census. While living alone doesn’t necessarily lead to social isolation, it’s still a common factor in many depressed older adults. PNAS suggests in their report that both loneliness and social isolation increased mortality rates in those 52 years and older. Difficult transitions in your loved one’s life like the loss of their significant other or close friend can cause depression. They may also be experiencing changes in their health. Here are the symptoms of depression that you should be aware of:

  • Feeling of worthlessness
  • No interest in former hobbies
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Fatigue
  • Engaging in reckless behavior
  • Problems with focusing, making decisions, and remembering things

For more information on depression, you can visit the Depression Health Center on WebMD by clicking here.

Using CBT for Depression

In trial studies, CBT has been found to be vastly superior to other forms of therapy in those age 50 years and older. Your loved one and their therapist work together to change unhealthy thinking patterns. CBT helps depressed individuals identify specific problems and address them directly. Patients are encouraged to actively work on what they learn outside of their sessions, may even be given homework. If your loved one suffers from mild to moderate depression, they may reap the benefits of CBT without the use of medication. Studies show that in cases of mild to moderate depression, CBT may be as effective as medication. They suggest that patients may still have lingering symptoms even after taking medication. CBT is effective in reducing relapses in depressed patients that may occur even after going through other forms of treatments.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Anxiety shares some similarities with depression as its symptoms can overlap with each other. In most cases, they go hand in hand. Almost 50% of patients with depression also experience high levels of anxiety. Here are symptoms that you should be on the lookout for in your loved one:

  • Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that are out of proportion to the impact of the event
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
  • Worrying about excessively worrying
  • Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
  • Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty

For more information on how you can help your loved one with anxiety, you can read our complete guide here.

Using CBT for Anxiety

CBT is one of the most effective and widely used methods of treating anxiety. It not only helps treat the symptoms of anxiety, but also identifies and addresses the underlying causes of a person’s worries. Based on your loved one’s symptoms, a specific therapy program is crafted for them. Similar to treating depression, a therapist using CBT to help with anxiety works with your loved one to change how they view certain situations and environments. For example, if your loved one doesn’t feel comfortable in large social settings, a therapist can help recognize the triggers that cause them to feel anxious. They may suggest deep breathing techniques or other effective coping skills for anxiety. Here are some techniques that you and your loved one can use right away to help with anxiety:

  • Taking a timeout can help your loved one clear their head. They can listen to music, read, or do other things to help calm them.
  • Make sure they eat! Skipping meals or having an unbalanced diet may worsen anxiety symptoms.
  • Staying active helps your loved one fight off anxiety along with other health problems.
  • Making your loved one laugh and having a good sense of humor can lower anxiety levels.
  • Reducing alcohol intake can help reduce anxiety.

When Should Your Loved One See a Doctor?

Depression and anxiety can severely impact your loved one’s quality of life if not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner. If you notice behavior changes like  avoiding social situations or not doing things they once loved, it may be time for them to see a doctor. For seniors, there is  often a stigma associated with mental health issues, making it difficult to bring up the discussion of therapy or other treatments. Be patient, make them feel at ease, and make them part of the decision.