Depression in the elderly is nothing uncommon, with millions of seniors being affected by this mental disorder. Unfortunately, most of them don’t receive the proper treatment for this condition because it is often mistaken in the way it manifests, with reactions to other illnesses, or to the medications the seniors need to take for chronic conditions and other diseases.
While common, it is not normal for a senior to suffer from depression. Something can be done, from addressing the causes to ensuring proper treatment. Let’s see what depression in the elderly is all about and what can be done to help.
How is the depression in senior citizens different from other age groups?
The main issue with depression when it affects people in their senior years is that it comes with increased risks. While it may be associated with the chronic conditions these people suffer from and the medications they take, as shown earlier, that doesn’t mean that depression, even in its mild manifestations, should be swept under the rug.
Specialists talk about the fact that depression can increase the risk of a heart attack, and also the risk of dying from various medical conditions the elderly suffer from. Some may recommend light exercise, and you might want to think of looking at some 3-wheel bikes for seniors to ensure that the older person in your care gets a bit of physical activity in the open air.
What are the causes of depression in seniors?
Depression is a complex condition, and that is why there is rarely a single cause that leads to its onset. For years now, studies have tried to show a clear link between genetics and depression, and, while it may be true that this condition can run in the family, there is usually much more to it.
For the elderly, the causes can be quite particular, and in definite relation to their old age. For instance, the low levels of serotonin and other neural transmitters that are responsible for mood, are more frequent in the elderly than in other age groups.
We have already mentioned the genetic link. Another cause can be a traumatic life event, such as the loss of a loved one (losing a spouse is a common cause of depression in the elderly), or abuse. Also, suffering from medical conditions that are often accompanied by chronic pains and other severe symptoms, can contribute to the state of hopelessness and sadness associated with depression.
Feelings of isolation, fear of mortality, reduced range of movement, the transition from being employed to being retired, are all causes of depression that must be taken into consideration.
What are the symptoms of depression in the elderly?
Paying attention to the signs of depression can help identify the condition before it becomes chronic, making treating it easier. They might not be that different from the symptoms experienced by someone younger, but they might come with complications that can make the seniors feel them with more intensity.
For instance, the feelings of sadness may grow to become despair, and feeling physical pain can become more acute, without a physiological explanation. When they suffer from depression, the elderly tend to lose their appetite, to the point that they might end up going for days eating very little. Sleeping very little is another symptom that you will find easy to recognize in a senior.
It is not unusual for seniors with depression to develop a fixation with death and even have suicidal thoughts. Depression also comes with feelings of worthlessness, lack of energy, apathy, memory loss, and a tendency to self-neglect. Trying to get them interested again in the things they love might help. For instance, you may browse through the gardening seats for elderly citizens offered by specialized stores, to make it possible for them to enjoy their favorite activity, once more.
One thing that might surprise caregivers is that many seniors say that they don’t feel sad. The common belief that sadness and depression go hand in hand seems to be shaken by this finding. However, seniors will complain of other symptoms, such as lack of energy, aggravated physical pain, and headaches.
How can a caregiver tell the difference between depression and grief?
One of the most challenging endeavors when taking care of a senior is that it can be hard to tell whether it is grief that makes the older adult sad or it is depression. Grief is natural, and the elderly citizens have, usually, more reasons to grief than other age groups, because they might live through the death of a spouse and dear friends.
However, grief is not depression, and that is something you must bear in mind. While no one can place an expiration date on grief, it tends to lessen in intensity with time. Depression, once it sets, doesn’t let the person suffering from it to enjoy anything. It becomes a constant in the older person’s life, and that is when you will know that is a red flag and must be addressed.
How is the depression in the elderly treated?
There can be different approaches to how to treat depression in older adults. One of them is through medication. Using antidepressants that help with the production of happiness hormones such as serotonin can help. Bear in mind that a doctor’s diagnosis is needed, and no one should auto-medicate.
Another approach concerns the elderly’s lifestyle. You can offer the senior in your care the possibility to get involved in activities he, and she used to enjoy. For instance, with the help of the golf clubs for seniors made available by some manufacturers, they can easily enjoy a couple of hours on the course. Provided that their mobility and range of motion allows, they can integrate various physical activities in their lives.
A healthy diet, good sleeping routine, and plenty of attention and care from friends and family can also help to alleviate the symptoms of depression in the elderly.