Recognizing Depression in Aging Adults

Becoming Depressed is not an Inevitable part of Aging

Depressed older adults can get helpBeing depressed isn’t normal in aging or at any age. If it was, all seniors would be suffering from it and we know that is not the case. That is not to say that many people; including older adults do not deal with it at some time in their post retirement years. Illness and health issues do occur more frequently in older people and debilitating diseases or medical conditions which alter one’s life and limits mobility and independence can contribute to these feelings.

Clinical depression is highlighted by a time frame of six weeks or more, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in addition to sadness and loss of interest in the things you typically have enjoyed. It is a dark shadow cast over one’s mind which thankfully can be successfully treated. A multi-pronged approach to treating depression in older adults include: medication, talking therapies and also self-help approaches. Unfortunately, it is also often overlooked by the person, family, friends and especially one’s doctors. This is an impediment to treatment and feeling better.

A Feeling of Well – Being Happens at any Age

Social Psychologist Erik Erikson described the psychological task of Old Age as being Integrity vs. Despair.  When an elderly person has a sense of themselves as having done their best and overall life has been good, they have integrity. When a person feels the opposite, that life has always been unfair, difficult and people unkind, they most like feel despair which is feeling depressed. Our sense of self and of the world carries through from childhood through death. It is when a person becomes “stuck” that help is truly needed. Most people do overcome depression which is far deeper than a feeling of sadness which usually dissipates more quickly on its own.

Recognizing Depression in Aging Adults

Symptoms include: loss of energy, appetite, weight, interest in others, hobbies, work, sleeping a lot or inability to sleep. It is often triggered by an event such as a loss, even a perceived loss, change in health, being isolated, or a difficulty in accepting realities of age related issues. Many folks then feel ashamed of feeling down. They may find it to be a weakness even though most of us at some point in our lives will experience these deep feelings. There is help. It may lift on its own or you or your loved one could get help to deal with and get past it.  When you notice someone is sad days at a time, expresses being lonely, helpless, unmotivated, is neglecting their own needs, even hygiene, becomes fixated on death or talks about suicide, or ending it… then a real intervention is warranted. Treatment is needed and ought to begin with one’s primary doctor. There may be a physical cause to the emotional or psychological response of depression. It may also be caused by an illness or a medication side effect.  Older adults may not recognize depression as feelings of sadness; it may exhibit as a physical ache or pain. Grieving over a loss – of a loved one, a pet, a home, independence, health etc. is natural and healthy. Loss deserves to be grieved. Grief will also lift after a while and it ebbs and flows; whereas, depression is like a rock… it is persistent.

A Medical Side Effect

Parkinson disease, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer dementia, lupus, M.S., thyroid problems and a vitamin B12 deficiency among other illnesses can cause depression or make it worse, as can chronic pain, disability or a life-threatening condition.

Good News 

Most depression is treatable with medication, counseling, time and in very severe cases with ECT (shock) treatment. Very often depression will go away on its own. If you or a loved one isare depressed for a few weeks, seek help! Have a thorough medical exam, blood work, a look at medications, seek counseling, consider anti-depressants and fight it. A combination of treatments will most likely make the depression lift and you can move forward in your life. You may feel alone, that is part of depression, but in reality there is help around you – take it.

Being alone and unable to properly care for oneself or being mostly homebound can lead tobecoming depressed. Hiring a companion or caregiver a couple of times a week can have a positive impact on eliminating depression. Humans are for the most part social beings and being connected and feeling engaged helps our overall psychological and physical well-being.