Today, medical science allows us to live longer than ever. Elderly depression can be an unfortunate side effect to living longer though. Widely suffered but seldom treated, depression can rob a senior of what can be the most fulfilling years of life.
Often brought on by other illness, medication, loss of mobility, lifestyle changes or the death of a spouse, friend or loved one, depression in the elderly can be hard to diagnose. Because we’re expected to slow down as we age, doctors and family members often ignore or misdiagnose the symptoms, forcing seniors to live with an illness that might easily be treated.
Left untreated however, depression can have serious physical and psychological consequences, and sadly, even suicide.
The signs of depression in senior citizens can be subtle and hard to recognize. It’s important though, for yourself or a loved one, to not only know how to spot the symptoms but also know what to do about them, including knowing when to seek professional help.
Some of the not so obvious warning signs include: Sadness, especially in someone who is normally “upbeat;” hopelessness, particularly in a senior that is naturally optimistic; and helplessness, in a man or woman who has prided themselves on being independent, all could be depression warning signs.
Fatigue, in an elder who’s normally energetic and “full of life;” withdrawal from friends and social activities by a man or woman who is usually social and outgoing; and the loss of interest in lifelong hobbies or pleasures, should all be considered as possible depression symptoms.
A loss of appetite and skipping meals could lead to weight loss, all possible signs of depression; a lack of interest in personal care like hygiene or skipping medication might be a symptom; and sleep problems like trouble falling asleep, awaking in the middle of the night, oversleeping and trouble staying awake during the day all can be elderly depression warning signs.
Unexplainable, persistent aches and pains should be explored as possible depression symptoms; irritability in a man or woman who is normally happy and easy to get along with can be a sign; and an increased usage of drugs or alcohol, an attempt to “self-medicate,” is an indication that depression is a possibility.
A senior whose movements have become slower, who is anxious and worries excessively, whose memory has gotten unreliable, or has taken an interest in death, dying, even talking about or attempting suicide could be in need of immediate professional help.
Roughly 6 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from clinical depression. Tragically, experts estimate that only 10% will receive the treatment they need.
Considering symptoms as being as “just part of getting older,” keeps the elderly and their families from pursuing professional help.
A senior’s stubborn desire to remain independent, to “take care of myself,” will keep many out of the doctor’s office. Also, many from the generation have a stigma to mental illness and anything attached to it, like medication, councilors and psychiatrists.
The methods to treat depression in the elderly can vary, depending in large part on the severity of the condition and the patient’s physical health.
The uses of antidepressant medication, counseling and psychotherapy sessions are common and effective treatments. Electroconvulsive treatment, ECT, is often used in conjunction with other treatments and in patients that are unable to take antidepressants due to the side effects or because of their interaction with other medications they might be taking.
Consulting with your MD, as you would with any illness, should be the first step in successful treatment.
John Lennon wrote and recorded “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out.” Lennon had it wrong. You or a family member may be “down and out” because of depression, but there is something you can do. These can be the “golden years,” for you and those that love you.
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