The Good News about Depression in the Elderly

Depression is the most common mental illness found in older people. The good news is that with proper diagnosis and treatment, people suffering from depression can live happy, healthy lives. Amazingly, depression is the second most frequent reason for which people, over the age of seventy, consult their doctors. Although depression is common in this age group, it does not mean that it is normal. Unfortunately, only about ten percent of depressed seniors receive proper diagnosis and treatment for their conditions. Symptoms of depression in the elderly are frequently confused with the effects of other illnesses and the medications used to treat them.

Being female or being single are two high risk factors for depression. Also, lack of a supportive network of family or friends and the occurrence of stressful life events also predispose individuals to depression. Chronic illnesses, chronic pain, and conditions such as stroke, diabetes, cancer and dementia may be factors which contribute to depression.

Symptoms of depression in the older age group may include complaints of aches and pains. Anxiety may be exhibited by edgy, panicky behavior. The person may state that he or she feels tense or stressed. Depressed individuals may appear sad, cry easily and may withdraw from activities which they previously enjoyed. They may shun the company of others and spend a great deal of time alone. Severe depression may cause a person to appear as if he or she has dementia when this is not the case. It is distressing for someone to experience depression. It is also very frightening for family, friends and caregivers to deal with someone who has untreated severe depression.

Depression, as one ages, may be triggered by adverse life events. Examples of such events are mourning the loss of a loved one, anxiety regarding a loved one’s health problems and one’s own health issues. It has also been found that as the body ages so does the brain. Some of the changes which occur can reduce chemicals normally produced in the brain. An adequate supply of these substances maintains a feeling of well being. A reduction in the level of these natural chemicals may alter that state.

We have reviewed the “tough stuff” regarding depression. Now, let us discuss ways of handling the situation if we find ourselves in need of help.
Thankfully, there is hope as there are highly successful treatments for depression. Depression is not always long lasting. It can be situational and may resolve as adjustment to a new environment or condition occurs. Talking with one’s primary physician or seeking professional counseling may be all that is required for minor or situational depression. If necessary, the use of antidepressants along with counseling may also be very beneficial. There are many medications available that produce wonderful results and have few side effects. Some medications can also help to replace the natural “feel good” chemicals which may be depleted as we age. The stigma must be removed from diagnosis and treatment of depression and other mental disorders. They are truly illnesses just like diabetes or heart ailments. People suffering from depression need treatment and medication, if indicated, to help them lead healthy lives.

At the Farrar Home, I have witnessed many depressed seniors find peace and happiness through proper diagnosis and treatment of their conditions.
Regaining their dignity and self esteem has allowed them to live their lives to the fullest. Observation of these transitions has been both rewarding and fulfilling.

Reviewing our mental health situation is something we owe to ourselves and to our loved ones. If you feel you may need some help in this area, please discuss the issue with your doctor. This could be the first step in making your life the best that it can be.

Carol McKee, RN, Farrar Home Administrator

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