Depression in the elderly


The diagnosis of clinical depression in individuals who are elderly is quite common. Now, that does not mean however that it is normal. Depression in late-life is believed to affect around six million Americans who are 65 years of age or older. But merely ten percent will be treated for depression. The reason for this is probably that the elderly usually display symptoms of depression differently. It is frequently confused with effects of having many illnesses as well as the drugs and medications used in treating them.

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Symptoms of Depression in the Elderly

Later life depression usually co-exists with disabilities as well as other medical problems. Additionally, with advancing age comes the loss of social support often due to death of spouse and siblings, relocation of home as well as retirement. Due to these changes in the circumstances of an elderly person along with the fact that persons who are elderly are expected to slow down, medical professionals as well as family members often miss any signs of depression. Because of this any type of treatment that could be effective, gets delayed. Many of these individuals find that they are coping alone with symptoms that are very easy to treat.

Depression in elderly individuals tends to:

• Last longer

• Double risk of cardiac diseases

• Increases risk of death from illness

• Reduces elderly’s ability to rehabilitate

Research conducted of patients in nursing homes has found that individuals with physical illnesses and having the symptoms of depression can substantially raise the likelihood of death from these illnesses. Depression has also been linked with increasing risk of death after a heart attack. So, it is very important that any elderly individuals you are concerned about or caring for is evaluated and treated for even depression that is mild.

Depression in the elderly particularly white males is likely to lead to suicide. Suicidal rates in individuals between the ages of 80 to 84 are twice that of the general population and depression in individuals over the age of 65 is a major public health problem.

Symptoms and signs of depression in the elderly include the following:

• Sadness

• Fatigue

• Losing interest in hobbies

• Social withdrawal

• Weight loss

• Loss of appetite

• Sleep disturbances

• Loss of self-worth

• Increased use of drugs or alcohol

• Fixation on death, suicide or attempts suicide

Causes of Depression in the Elderly

As mentioned above significant changes in life put elderly individuals at risk for depression. Causes and risk factors that can contribute include:

• Isolation and loneliness – Dwindling social circle, and living alone due to death or relocation; decreased mobility because of illness or loss of driving abilities

• Problems with health – Disability and illness; severe or chronic pain; cognitive decline; damage to body image because of disease or surgery

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• Reduced sense of purpose – Feelings of purposelessness or loss of identity due to physical activities or limitations or retirement

• Fears – Fear of dying or death; worrying over financial problems or issues with health

• Bereavement – The death of pets, family members or friends; the loss of spouse or partner

Medical conditions that can contribute to depression include:

• Parkinson’s disease

• Heart disease

• Cancer

• Stroke

• Diabetes

• Thyroid disorders

• Deficiency of vitamin B12

• Alzheimer’s or dementia disease

• Lupus

• Multiple sclerosis

Medications that can cause or worsen symptoms of depression include:

• Blood pressure drugs such as clonidine

• Sleeping medications

• Beta-blockers such as Lopressor and Inderal

• Tranquilizers such as Xanax, Valium or Halcion

• Medications for Parkinson’s disease

• Calcium-channel blockers

• Any heart drugs with reserpine

• Steroids such as prednisone or cortisone

• Ulcer drugs such as Tagamet and Zantac

• Drugs for high-cholesterol such as Mevacor, Lipitor, Zocor

• Arthritis and painkilling medications

• Estrogen’s such as Prempro or Premarin

It should never be assumed that a loss of mental sharpness is just a sign of old age. It could be depression or even dementia both common in older individuals as well as the elderly.

Treatment of Depression in the Elderly

The 2 most important ways for the elderly to help themselves out of depression include:

• Move the body. Physical activity has mood-boosting effects that are powerful. In fact there is research that suggests activity may be just as effective as antidepressants in the relief of depression.

• Interact with others. Obtaining support plays a large role in lifting depression and keeping it away. If a person cannot get out, invite friends or family over to visit them, or keep in touch over the telephone or by email.

Other ways to fight as well as prevent depression include:

• Get out in the world – don’t stay cooped up in the house all day. Go to the park, hairdresser or have lunch with a friend

• Join activities you enjoy. Pursue a hobby or pastimes that bring you joy.

• Volunteer. Helping others the best way to feel good about yourself.

• Take care of a pet – pets keep you company

• Learn a new skill. Learn something new or that sparks your creativity as well as imagination

• Find reasons to laugh. Laughter is a natural booster of moods, so swap jokes or stories with others, watch a funny movie or standup comedian, read a funny book

• Keep a diet that is healthy. Avoid eating too much sugar or junk food. Choose food that is healthy and that provides energy and nourishment as well as take a daily multivitamin.

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1 Comment

  1. Son of a gun, this is so heflpul!

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