like heart disease, depression is physically debilitating, emotionally
draining—often, even silent. But unlike heart disease, most
people are hesitant to acknowledge depression, or take the necessary
steps to improve their own, or a loved one’s, quality of life.
Losing heart and hope can make existing health problems worse. But,
fortunately, help exists.
The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation provides information about
and other mental illnesses and provides a listing
of geriatric psychiatrists throughout the country.
Many people experience depressed moods at some point in their lives.
But when these experiences last more than two weeks, it may be depression,
an actual medical condition.
Interestingly, older people experience the symptoms of depression
differently than others. They may complain about vague aches and
pains, become demanding, or unwilling to do things they once found
enjoyable. Other signs of late-life depression include:
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
- Changes in appetite (weight loss or gain)
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Noticeable restlessness or slow movement
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
- Changes in sex drive
- Irritability and intolerance
- Memory problems and confusion
- Withdrawal from social situations
Late-life depression tends to last longer than depression in younger
people, and may raise a person’s risk for other serious health
problems, increase the severity of existing medical conditions,
or even provoke premature death. So if you, or someone you care
about, is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is critical
to seek help as soon as possible.
The onset of late-life depression can be attributed to different
factors, such as changes in the brain, major life changes, or chronic
illness. Certain health conditions are also often associated with
the development of depression, including heart disease, stroke,
hip fracture, bypass surgery, and macular degeneration. Other risk
- Changes in medications or newly prescribed medications for other
- Recent loss of a loved one
- Presence of another illness
- Severe and chronic pain
- Living alone and feeling socially isolated
- Hormonal changes
- Family history of depression
- Alcohol or drug abuse or misuse
It may come as a surprise that depression is not a typical part
of aging. It can, and should, be treated by a medical professional
just like any other illness. In fact, there are many safe, effective
treatments. With proper care, most patients will achieve a better
quality of life.
The most common treatments are medication and psychotherapy (talk
therapy). Medication is often necessary to balance brain chemistry.
Psychotherapy and counseling can help people understand what they
are feeling and make healthy lifestyle choices. Each person is unique
and will require analysis by a medical professional to determine
which treatments will be most beneficial.
In addition to seeking professional medical help, older adults can
take steps to enhance their treatment:
- Talk with those who have had similar experiences
- Ask for support from a good friend or family member
- Spend time with enjoyable company
- Take life one day at a time
- Identify life problems
- Identify pleasant activities and routines
- Eat healthy foods
- Incorporate exercise into a daily routine
(c) 2007 Geriatric Mental Health Foundation 7910
Woodmont Avenue, Ste 1050 Bethesda, MD 20814