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Depression in Senior Citizens

While many believe it to be true, depression is not a normal part of the aging process.  However, many older people begin to suffer from depression as they age.

  • The lessening of health and mobility
  • The possibility of forced retirement
  • The demands of caring for an aging spouse
  • The loss of a spouse and many others closest to you
  • Taking a back seat to the lives of your family members

Many of the events of older adulthood can put you at risk of depression, but when it is correctly diagnosed, it is highly treatable.

A Common Issues Being Overlooked

Senior depression is under diagnosed.  Many doctors can account for symptoms such as insomnia or fatigue as the normal signs of getting older.  Some seniors are reluctant to disclose all of their symptoms to their doctors for fear of looking weak or being forced into an assisted living situation.  In many cases, depression in older adults comes out when another disease or illness comes out.  Many of the symptoms of depression are misinterpreted as symptoms of an existing condition.

Identifying Depression In The Elderly

In order to diagnose depression in seniors, doctors will often administer a Geriatric Depression Scale test that is 30 questions of yes or no that are designed to screen for depressive symptoms in geriatric patients.  Some of the symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Memory Loss
  • Irritability
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities that once brought pleasure
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Fear of death

Should any of these symptoms last longer than two weeks and become strong enough that it influences your social, professional, or familial life, seek medical attention immediately.

There are many different circumstances that can bring on depression.  Particularly with senior citizens, a fear of death and the loss of the people to whom they have been the closest can bring on depression.  Losing your spouse and your closest friends is going to be difficult at any age.  It is particularly difficult for seniors who sometimes have only those similarly aged people to depend upon.  A woman with no children who loses her spouse is likely going to feel very alone in the world.  This can bring on feelings of depression.  Medical difficulties such as the use of certain medications, mental disorders common to people who are aging such as dementia, or vascular problems can bring on depression in older people.

Treating Depression in Senior Citizens

When a doctor suspects that a patient is suffering from depression, he or she will want to rule out any potential physical causes of the illness.  You are likely to receive a full physical exam and a number of common medical tests such as blood test, livers tests, and thyroid tests.  Provided that these tests exclude a physical cause, your doctor will then proceed to the conventional psychological testing for depression.

Generally, senior patients response very well to the typical depression treatments of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy.  The recovery rate for seniors is very high once the condition is diagnosed.  The more difficult part of the treatment for depression in seniors is lifestyle modification.  In younger people, one of the suggestions that is often offered is to increase physical and social activity.  This can be very helpful for senior citizens as well, but it can sometimes be difficult to coordinate.  Exercise will certainly elevate your mood and help to keep you in good physical health which helps your mental health, but many older people are beyond the point where this is a possibility.  However, any movement is good movement and can be of good use.

Some seniors who experience depression because of social isolation would do well to find some other seniors in the area with whom to visit or share time together.  Sometimes it is possible for local social service organizations or church families to visit people who have limited mobility so that they can benefit from some social interaction.  Visitations can be a help not only to keep the older adults social, but also to monitor any other on-going conditions that could appear between doctor’s visits.

No one should have to live with untreated depression.  Current treatments work well enough that there should be no reason for suffering.  If you are an older adult, and you are experiencing the symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor or seek out the help of a mental health professional.  The sooner you speak up, the sooner you will start to feel like yourself again.

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