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Understanding Depression in the Elderly

written by: LotusSnow • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/20/2011

Approximately six million Americans age 65 and older are affected by late-life depression. Unfortunately many depressed seniors fail to recognize their symptoms and assume that being down or depressed is just part and parcel of growing old. This is an erroneous assumption.

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    Sometimes senior citizens are forced to live alone and they watch their social circle grow smaller due to deaths or relocation. In addition to possible loss of mobility due to illness, their sense of independence may dwindle especially if they lose their driving privileges. It is therefore not surprising that the elderly may feel sad, lonely, and isolated when these events occur. Moreover, after their children move away, they may feel a reduced sense of purpose.

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    Signs and Symptoms

    As a response to their changing circumstances, some elderly people will withdraw socially, demonstrate a reluctance to go out with friends, refuse to participate in activities and have a tendency to just stay home alone. They may also lose interest in hobbies, abandon other pleasurable pastimes and generally lack motivation and energy - these are characteristic signs of geriatric depression.

    Other symptoms include loss of appetite and weight loss which may lower immune systems making it harder for an elderly person to fight off simple infections.

    Another possible indication of depression in the elderly is neglected personal hygiene - not bathing, brushing teeth, combing hair or shaving, and leaving clothes unwashed. When you visit their home there is evidence of neglect, for example, an overgrown lawn, bathrooms appear messy with clothes all over the floor and there are unwashed dishes piling up. Living in an unhygienic environment can cause the elderly to be more prone to falling sick.

    Some elderly people with depression will exhibit memory problems and they might appear confused or forgetful. Additionally there may also be an increase in unexplained or aggravated aches and pains. Some may increase alcohol use while others will stop taking their medication or take it incorrectly.

    Looking at the different signs of geriatric depression we have to be aware that there is also depression without sadness. Although depression and sadness often go hand in hand it is not always necessarily the case. Many depressed seniors may not claim to feel sad at all. Instead, they may present other symptoms such as complaining about a lack of energy, a decrease in motivation or some physical problems. In fact, complaints about arthritis pain, joint pains or headaches are often the predominant symptoms in the depressed elderly.

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    In conclusion do remember regardless of whether you are 19 or 90, you do not have to live with depression. Elderly depression can be treated with the right support. Depression is not an easy condition to overcome all on your own. There is no shame in admitting you are depressed, it does not indicate weakness and you cannot just tell yourself to snap out of it. Regardless of your previous accomplishments in life, depression can happen to anyone. Learn to recognize the symptoms and signs of depression and take steps to ensure that you are happy and vibrant throughout your golden years.

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    References

    1. Depression – Elderly http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002489/
    2. Older Adults: Depression and Suicide Facts (Fact Sheet) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/older-adults-depression-and-suicide-facts-fact-sheet/index.shtml
    3. Depression in the Elderly http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-elderly