Seniors, Anxiety, & Depression: Learn the Symptoms and Treatments

depression and anxiety seniors

Depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand: If you’re suffering from one, it’s not uncommon to have the other. And even as those with depression and anxiety fight against the sometimes debilitating systems, it can be frustrating to hear this is just a “natural part” of growing older – because it’s not. The CDC points out that while depression is not a normal part of aging, there are so many older people who become depressed that many physicians write it off as a natural stage for the elderly and thus might not recognize it as something that needs treatment.

Depression is a medical condition, much like diabetes or heart disease, and it can be treated. Though it’s not a normal part of aging, it is true that older adults are at increased risk for depression and anxiety. Part of the reason for that is that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have at least two. Depression is more common among those with chronic illnesses.1

Of the 34 million Americans who are aged 65 or older, about two million of them are known to suffer from depression; and since the majority of them believe that suffering from depression is “normal” as they get older, only about 42% actually seek treatment for it[1].

Anxiety also plagues many seniors. About 20% of the population suffers from anxiety, and among older adults, the incidence of anxiety is greater than that of depression[2]. Therefore, if you’re suffering from one, it’s important to get treatment for both.

Often treatment can include medications (which we will discuss a bit further down). If you think that depression or anxiety is affecting you or your loved one, be proactive right now by getting a medical alert watch, bracelet, or pendant. Why? There are many good reasons, but one of the biggest is to protect yourself from the potential side effects of medications. For instance, dizziness might be a side effect, and dizziness can lead to falls. An emergency response system with fall detection can be just what you need to not only protect you physically by getting help as soon as possible after a fall, but to also provide the peace of mind that help is always a button press away, 24/7. This may help to alleviate some anxiety.

More Facts About Depression and Anxiety                  

According to Mental Health America, clinical depression is often seen as a normal response to a serious event, such as a medical emergency. Nearly a quarter of those who experience a stroke will face clinical depression in the aftermath. And though a serious adverse event can make anyone feel sad and anxious, depression goes beyond that. Here are some interesting facts about depression and anxiety that make it clear you are not alone:

·         Among those who are widowed, about 50% are clinically depressed one year after the loss.

·         Those who have symptoms of depression tend to have 50% higher healthcare costs than those who are not depressed[3].

·         Illnesses like Alzheimer’s are a common trigger for depression, and depression can worsen the symptoms of major illnesses.

·         Those who don’t get physical activity are more likely to suffer from depression. By the age of 75, about one-third of men and half of women don’t get any physical activity at all.

·         Medication side effects can be a major contributor to depression and anxiety in the elderly[4].

·         A sedentary lifestyle often leads to trouble with mobility, which then leads to problems with staying independent; suffering a fall or other injury can be a trigger for depression.

·         About 57% of those who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder also suffer from depression or other mental health issues[5].

·         Depression is linked with an increased risk of death from heart attack[6].

·         Up to 14% of seniors meet the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder[7].

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

Sometimes the signs of depression in a loved one can be tough to spot. If you’re the one who feels depressed, it might be tough to admit you’re feeling these symptoms. If you feel the following symptoms for several weeks, you might be depressed[8]:

·         Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless

·         Feeling hopeless or pessimistic about your situation or life in general

·         Feeling irritable or restless

·         Suffering from fatigue or decreased energy

·         Trouble with concentration or decision-making

·         Feelings of sadness or anxiety

·         Food consumption issues that may present as either overeating or a loss of appetite

·         Loss of interest or enjoyment in activities that used to bring pleasure

·         Sleep disturbances, such as early-morning waking or insomnia

·         Persistent physical symptoms such as digestive problems, headaches, or aches and pains

·         Thoughts of suicide or death

If you are feeling any of these symptoms, please don’t hesitate to tell your family or medical professional. It is possible for you to feel better, so ask for help to get the assistance you need.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Though anxiety goes hand-in-hand with depression, sometimes you can experience anxiety without being depressed. According to WebMD, those who suffer from anxiety will often show the same types of symptoms, including:

·         Feeling shaky and panicky

·         Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

·         Feeling nausea

·         Trouble with breathing or feeling chest pain

·         Sweating

·         Digestion problems

·         Confusion

·         Headaches

·         Problems with your vision

·         Irrational thinking

·         Muscle tension, fatigue, or soreness

·         Feeling forgetful

·         Finding it hard to sleep

·         Avoiding certain situations that make you feel more anxious

·         Changes in eating habits or appetite

·         Obsessive thoughts

·         Compulsive behaviors

·         Withdrawing from others or not wanting to leave home

There are several different types of anxiety disorders. The most common is generalized anxiety disorder. But there are others that are often dependent upon situations, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, or those that are based on very specific things, such as phobias. Here’s a brief rundown[9]:

·         General anxiety can leave your heart pounding or fill you with fear for no apparent reason.

·         Phobias are those things that are very specific but don’t pose a real threat, such as a fear of hot air balloons or flying. For older adults, common phobias include the fear of death or disaster, even if neither one of those things is imminent[10].

·         Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, causes persistent thoughts, often that demand repeated actions to stay “in control.” OCD is most often portrayed in media and movies as repetitive behaviors such as obsessive hand-washing, but it can take many forms.

·         PTSD is anxiety that is triggered by a traumatic event. It can begin immediately after the event or it can develop years later.

·         Panic disorder can lead to panic attacks. These often have no clear trigger. A panic attack can be strong enough to mimic the feelings of a heart attack or stroke.

What is the Treatment?

More than 80% of seniors with depression can be treated quite successfully with psychotherapy, medication, or both[11]. Antidepressants can be an enormous help. Those who can’t take certain medications for depression can often benefit greatly from psychotherapy instead. It’s important to remember that antidepressants can take longer to work in older people than they do in younger people, so be patient – but also be proactive in telling your doctor if the medication doesn’t feel like it is working after a few weeks of a daily dose[12].

When choosing medications along with your doctor’s recommendations, you should ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects and if the new medication could interfere with any drugs you are already on. It’s especially important that the doctor know all that you’re taking, including over-the-counter medications, as those can interfere with pharmaceuticals. Ask about the side effects and be on the lookout for those so you can report them to your doctor if you do experience them.

Psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as “therapy” or “counseling,” is an important component of treating depression and anxiety. Some individuals need only counseling and can hold off on the medications to see how the therapy is working for them. When it comes to anxiety, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you change the thinking patterns that contribute to your fears. There are also some relaxation techniques that can help you. Fortunately, this treatment is often highly effective.

What Can a Family Caregiver Do to Help a Loved One?

When you are helping a loved one who has depression or anxiety – or helping yourself – there are some specific things you can do that might make things easier. Here are a few suggestions from the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation:

·         Acknowledge what’s happening. Never sweep depression under the rug. The same is true for anxiety.

·         Talk with family, friends, spiritual leaders, or members of the healthcare team. Take the needed  steps toward getting appropriate help.

·         Adopt techniques that can help manage anxiety and possibly ease the symptoms of depression, such as regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing, or prayer.

·         Avoid things that can trigger anxiety or make depression worse, such as smoking, overeating, drinking caffeine, or substance abuse.

·         Remember that some over the counter medications, especially cold medications and herbal supplements, can contribute to anxiety. Speak to a doctor about medications that might be causing more problems.

·         Remember that negative news can seem to make everything feel a little worse, so limit your consumption of social media and news channels. If you need something to read and learn about, look specifically for “good news” and uplifting stories.

It’s also a very good idea to wear a medical alert pendant at all times. For those with anxiety disorders or depression, every bit of support helps. In addition to protecting the wearer from the consequences of suffering a medical emergency, the peace of mind that comes from knowing that help is literally one touch away can ease anxiety and help lift depression, knowing you never have to experience a trauma alone – and that’s always a good thing.

Pay Close Attention – And Reach Out for Help

There is a very sobering reality to keep in mind: depression raises the risk of suicide. This is especially true among older white men. In fact, the rate of suicide among those 80 to 84 is more than twice that of the general population[13].

It’s important to remember that depression is a treatable medical condition that many people suffer from across the world; good medications and therapy exist that can help you feel better. Please do not suffer in silence or think these feelings are just a “natural” part of aging.

As always, Alert1 wishes you abundant health and safety!