Depression In Seniors

Submitted by Jodi Melsness, Home Care Solutions

The term depression is used to describe a mood, a symptom or a disease. It is the most common psychiatric illness affecting older adults, often going undiagnosed and untreated in this age-group. Despite its high incidence in the elderly, depression should not be regarded as a normal response to aging.

Depression in later life frequently coexists with other medical illnesses and disabilities. In addition, advancing age is often accompanied by loss of key social support systems due to the death of a spouse or siblings, retirement, and/or relocation of residence. Because of their change in circumstances and the fact that they are expected to slow down, doctors and family may miss the diagnosis of depression and thus, delaying any kind of treatment.

The first episode of a major depressive disorder usually has a specific medical cause requiring a thorough diagnostic evaluation. An example of this would be a urinary tract infection (UTI) and Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s is strongly associated with depression because of the imbalance in brain chemicals it causes. Urinary tract infections can recur often, wearing the client down with urgency, frequency, and discomfort.

Depression in the elderly is more likely to lead to suicide. The risk of suicide is a serious concern among elderly patients with depression.  Elderly white males are at greatest risk with suicide rates more than twice that of the general population.

The following signs and symptoms of depression are often seen in the elderly:

  • Persistent depressed mood
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in daily activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Passive wish for death
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

There are several treatment options available for depression. Treatment initially consists of therapy with a mental health care provider, who may prescribe antidepressant medications or electroconvulsive therapy. Antidepressants may take longer to start working in older people and they may be more sensitive to medicines. Doctors may prescribe lower doses at first to see how the client tolerates the medication. Report any side effects to your doctor.

The National Hopeline Network  1-800-SUICIDE provides access to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.