Depression in the Elderly
By: Beth McHugh 2009
Depression is not an uncommon illness across the most of the lifespan and the elderly are no exception. Sometimes elderly people visit their doctor with a series of ailments only to be told they are not physically ill, but are suffering from depression.
So what are the symptoms of depression in the elderly? Mostly, they are much the same as those of any age group, yet because of the nature of some of the symptoms, elderly people may assume that something more serious, such as dementia, is causing the symptoms.
Below is an outline of the symptoms of depression as commonly experienced by the elderly. You do not need to have all of these signs to be diagnosed with depression, but there certainly needs to be impairment in day to day living.
- Feeling sad or irritable for long periods of time or for most of
- Loss of pleasure or interest in the activities you once enjoyed
- Overeating or undereating
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Overworrying, or suffering from anxiety more than usual
- Feeling unworthy, or that you are a burden to others
- Inability to concentrate properly
- Loss of memory
- Tiredness or lack of energy
- Thoughts that life is no longer worth living
It is important for any person experiencing these symptoms to tell your doctor or mental health professional.
So what causes an elderly person to become depressed? Generally, the reasons are much the same as for any age group. Personal problems, death of a loved one, loss of physical fitness; the reasons are endless.
The elderly also have the added burden of having to deal with age-related illnesses, such as arthritis and macular degeneration which can prevent participation in many former hobbies such as golf, bowls, craftwork and the like. This naturally diminishes the quality of life of the elderly person and it takes a philosophical approach to accept these side effects of aging to overcome these trials and banish depression. We are all different and take varying lengths of time to accept the inevitabilities of aging.
Many doctors will attempt to supply antidepressants when depression arises, especially in the elderly. But this can be a mistake. When depression strikes there is usually a logical reason for it and far and away the best treatment is to try to improve the life conditions of the depressed person. This applies to depressed people of any age.
Depression does not come out of the blue. It responds well to a change of conditions and when conditions cannot be changed, such as when a death occurs, life quality can be improved through grief counseling. The idea that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain is merely that – an idea. And with the right change of lifestyle, depression can be much improved and even eliminated.
Unfortunately for the elderly, there are often situations where there is a lack of family interest in the welfare of the person concerned, and the overworked doctors prescribes pills because s/he has no time to get to the root cause of the depression and the elderly persons themselves may be too sick to fight against the plans of the doctors, nursing homes, and family members. When this occurs, it is indeed a sad situation.
The other concern for the elderly is that one of the symptoms of depression
is memory loss and this can be a particularity disturbing symptom for
the over 65s as it may seem that they are being visited by the specter
of dementia. However, being aware of these changes makes it more likely
that you are experiencing one of the symptoms of depression rather than
senility. In fact, the two condition are readily discernible by a trained
mental health expert and you will soon be reassured that your “forgetfulness”
is due to depression rather than dementia.