Seniors and Depression

seniors and depression

The holiday season is here, which we normally associate with joy and happiness. But for some seniors, it can also bring something much less festive—the sadness and darkness of depression. Many believe that depression is a normal part of aging and thus it doesn’t need treatment, but that’s not true[1]. Depression is a very treatable condition that can strike anyone of any age, though it does tend to be more common among the elderly[2].

According to Mental Health America, over two million seniors over the age of 65 suffer from depression. But unfortunately, physicians tend to diagnose less than half of those who are depressed, leading to longer periods of depression and related problems, such as decreased daily functioning and increased length of hospital stays. Perhaps that is part of the reason why depressed elderly people have healthcare costs that are 50% higher than those who aren’t depressed[3].

But there is also very good news—four out of five adults who are depressed can be successfully treated with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both[4]. The first step toward fighting depression is recognizing it in the first place. Let’s look at what depression means for the elderly.

Why Depression is More Common Among Seniors

There are many reasons that depression could strike the elderly. The National Council on Aging names some leading risk factors, which include:

·         Dealing with chronic conditions – 80% of all seniors over the age of 65 have at least one.

·         Chronic pain – according to the CDC, about one in every three seniors over the age of 65 experiences some level of constant physical discomfort.

·         Reduced mobility and function, which can often be more pronounced among those with conditions like arthritis.

·         Worries about finances as income drops over time.

·         The elderly are more likely to experience the grief that comes from losing someone close, such as friends, family members, or a spouse.

·         Other factors include a lack of physical activity, loneliness, being abused or neglected by a caretaker, or feeling a high level of stress if they are a family caregiver for a loved one.

Making sure the elderly person in your life is taken care of can help counter some of these risk factors. For instance, making sure they go to all their doctor’s appointments can help them keep chronic conditions under control, and getting them into activities at your local senior center can help ensure they don’t feel as lonely.

Those who are dealing with mobility issues or decreased physical function might not only feel depression, but could also feel a measure of fear when it comes to getting around without injury. In that case, a medical alert watch or pendant can help ensure their peace of mind. The more worries you can eliminate, the better.

Understanding Depression

There are numerous types of depression. Understanding which type of depression a person has can help you figure out how to best help them through it. Here are some of the most common types your senior loved one might be diagnosed with:

·         Major depressive disorder is when the symptoms of depression last for at least two weeks and interfere with daily life.

·         Persistent depressive disorder happens when the depression lasts for two years or more, but the person can still function in their daily life.

·         Seasonal affective disorder is depression that occurs during the fall and winter months.

·         Depressive disorder due to a medical condition is triggered by something that is often life-changing, such as a diagnosis of heart disease or cancer.

·         Substance-induced or medication-induced depression is related to the use of substances, such as alcohol, or medication, such as that for pain.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

It’s very important to remember that a person who has depression might not appear to be depressed at all. Many can hide the problem quite well, especially if you aren’t a live-in caregiver and don’t see them all the time. And often, sadness is not the main symptom for the elderly[5]. Instead, they might feel numb, lose interest in activities, try to isolate themselves, or suffer from aches and pains that have no clear cause.

Classic depression symptoms include:

·         Feeling sad, empty, or anxious

·         Feeling worthless, helpless, or hopeless

·         Feeling restless or irritable

·         Losing interest in things they used to enjoy

·         Moving or talking at a slower pace

·         Feeling fatigued or exhausted

·         Sleep issues, whether oversleeping or suffering from insomnia

·         Trouble with concentration and decision-making

·         Changes in eating habits, including overeating or eating too little

·         Suicidal thoughts

If any of these warning signs persists for more than two weeks, it’s time to get help. If there are suicidal thoughts involved, don’t wait – that can turn into a true emergency and needs addressing right away.

If your loved one is dealing with any of the symptoms of depression, especially fatigue and exhaustion, it’s a good idea to consider a medical alert system with fall detection.

What are Treatments for Depression?

There are several ways to treat depression, and what works for one person might not work for another. The doctor might prescribe medications that can effectively treat depression, though it’s important to remember that it can take time to find the right medication and dosage. Staying patient through the process of trying different drugs for depression can be tough, but it’s worth the time to find the right balance.

Counseling is also a common form of treatment that is proven to work quite well. Counseling sessions are typically once a week or so and are often combined with medication therapies.

If you are a family caregiver for someone who is being treated for depression, there are some things you can do to actively help them. Encourage them throughout their treatment and help them follow the treatment plan they’ve been given, including reminding them to attend counseling sessions and take their medication on time. Accompany them to doctor’s appointments if they need that. But stay in the outer room during counseling sessions. This ensures they can speak freely and privately about how they feel.

Make a point of helping them in other ways too. Prepare nutritious meals to share while talking about the events of the day. Go on a walk or a bike ride with them to get in more physical activity. Make sure they get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated. Give them a sounding board if they need to talk.

Getting Help if You or a Loved One Has Depression

Well over half of all seniors surveyed by Mental Health America believed that depression is a normal part of aging, and less than half would seek out advice from a professional if they felt depressed[6]. That means that someone might be suffering from depression and not reach out. As depression gets worse, there can be a significant decline in one’s quality of life.

Reaching out for help is so important. It matters to be vigilant in looking for the signs of depression, not just in the ones you care about, but in yourself as well. Talking to the doctor as soon as you become aware of the symptoms can get the ball rolling on treatment, which can enhance quality of life in a matter of weeks.

If you are a family caregiver, consider getting a medical alert pendant for your senior loved one. Depression can bring with it a wealth of unfounded anxiety – and given that, the person you care for might not reach out to ask for help from someone close to them. Though medical alert technology is designed to help in an emergency, they don’t have to wait for a dire situation to ask for help. If depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns become too much, they can press their emergency button alarm and be rest assured that help is near.

When Depression Becomes an Emergency

Remember that depression – especially if untreated and unacknowledged – can lead to serious consequences, including suicidal thoughts. If this is happening, it’s time to get help immediately. If your loved one is using an emergency response solution to stay safe, now is the time to press the button to get help on the line. It doesn’t matter how you get help – what matters is that you do!