Depression in the Elderly
Depression is a common though often overlooked disease in many older people. This disease can be a reaction to the many difficult changes an older person faces, such as grief from losing a spouse, family members, and friends, changes in health, and loss of independence. Depression, however, is not normal as people age.
The diagnosis of depression in the elderly can pose difficulties. Doctors may concentrate on physical complaints, or diagnose other illnesses based on the symptoms of depression. The diagnosis of this disease is further complicated by similar symptoms of other illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Depression is also one of the side effects of medications commonly prescribed to treat illnesses in the elderly. Older people may feel shame, too, and be reluctant to talk to doctors about depression symptoms.
Depression Symptoms Elderly People Experience
Some of the depression symptoms elderly people experience do match symptoms of the disease in people of all ages. These include:
- Loss of interest in hobbies or other pleasurable activities;
- Loss of self-worth or purpose;
- Social withdrawal and isolation;
- Changes in weight and appetite, with weight loss being most common;
- Insomnia or disturbances in sleep;
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs, and;
- Preoccupation with death, or suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Surprisingly, depressed older people do not always feel sad. Rather, they may experience a lack of motivation or energy, or complain about worsening arthritis pain or headaches. These physical problems are very typical symptoms of depression in the elderly. Depression symptoms elderly people experience often include symptoms of anxiety and irritability, too. Worries about money and health, and behaviors such as pacing the room or wringing the hands, commonly indicate depression in seniors.
Although older people may not feel sad or depressed, they may still have clinical depression. Some symptoms of depression in the elderly are:
- Slower movement;
- Unexplained or worsening aches and pains;
- Demanding behavior;
- Temper or agitation;
- Anxiety and worrying;
- Memory difficulties, and;
- Lack of interest in personal hygiene, skipping meals, and not taking medications.
Older people who have depression often think nothing can be done to relieve their symptoms. This belief is not true. Combating loneliness with social activities, volunteer work, or regular visits with family and friends can help feelings of depression. Group-based physical aerobic exercise, such as walking, can relieve symptoms, too.
If other medical conditions are causing depression, treatment should begin there. Antidepressants have been shown to relieve depression, but these medications should be carefully prescribed and monitored. Elderly patients should be prescribed with lower doses of antidepressants, and the dose should be gradually increased by doctors, if needed. Talk therapy, in addition to medication, has been shown be most effective for older people with moderate to severe depression.
Rogge, T.A, & Zieve, D. Depression – elderly. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001521.htm
Smith, M., Segal, R., & Segal, J. (2010). Depression in older adults and the elderly: recognizing the signs and getting help. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_elderly.htm