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Depression and the Elderly

I’m older now, shouldn’t I be depressed?

One of the most discouraging comments that I have heard over the years as a geriatric psychologist from many well-meaning family members, physicians and nursing home staff, are comments such as; “If I were their age, (or if I were in a nursing home) I would be depressed too”. These are frequently individuals who mean well, but simply lack a more balanced perspective of both the healthy aging process and when there may be reasons for concern. It is not “normal” to feel depressed all the time when you get older. In fact, most older people feel satisfied with their lives. However, according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, among people 65 and older, as many as 3 out of 10 suffer from clinical depression. It can be serious and can even

 

How do I know if I am depressed?

Many people think of depression as only sadness and a low mood, but clinical depression is much more than ordinary “down” moods that everyone may experience from now and then. It is more than a temporary feeling of grief after losing someone you love or feelings of discouragement. It is a whole body disorder affecting the way you think and the way you feel, both physically and emotionally. If you experience 4 or more of the following symptoms of depression you may want to seek an evaluation by a physician and/or mental health specialist:

  • A persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
  • Sleep problems (insomnia, oversleeping, early-morning waking)
  • Eating problems (loss of appetite or weight, weight gain)
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; a suicide attempt
  • Irritability
  • Excessive crying
  • Recurring aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment

While this list does not include all of the depressive symptoms, it does list the main ones that usually come to the attention of physicians and mental health clinicians.

What happens if I do not get help?

Current research seems to indicate that depression not only reduces an individuals quality of life, but also may lead to increased disability and mortality. Untreated depression has been found to increase the symptoms of and mortality rates associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and a host of other medical conditions, as well as increasing the level of substance abuse disorders (including alcohol and prescription drugs).

What can be done?

Various studies indicate that approximately 80-90 % of individuals with clinical depression can be treated successfully with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Even the most serious depressions usually respond well to the right type of treatment. Some of the newer antidepressants have limited side-effects and improved effectiveness over the older medications. Many contemporary studies on psychotherapy (counseling) also indicate that cognitive-behavioral, and some other therapies seem to have approximately the same level of treatment effectiveness as medications for mild to moderate depressions. First however, depression needs to be recognized for what it is as opposed to a “normal part of aging”.

Information and webpage by Paul Susic  Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist  (Health and Geriatric Psychologist

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