Understanding Depression Among Older Adults

Depression is a serious mental illness. It can impact how you feel, act, and think. Despite having more illnesses or physical problems than younger individuals, statistics demonstrate that most older people are content with their lives.

However, as time goes on and relationship dynamics change, older adults can become more susceptible to depressive feelings. Here, we will discuss the risk factors, signs, and ways seniors can manage feelings of depression. 

How Is Depression Different for Older People

Feeling low every now and then is natural. Still, if these feelings linger for several weeks or months, you may be suffering from depression. Older people are more vulnerable to feelings of depression for several reasons. We know that over 80% of older persons have at least one chronic health issue, with 50% having two or more.

Healthcare practitioners may misinterpret an older adult’s depressive symptoms as a natural reaction to sickness or life changes that may occur as we age and fail to address the depression. It is essential to identify early signs of depression to give adequate treatment. To prevent additional side effects from impacting their health further.

Risk Factors & Signs of Geriatric Depression

Numerous elements may be risk factors for depression. However, the five main risk factors for depression include behavioral, emotional, cognitive, physical, and circumstantial.

Behavioral

Every person learns to cope with discomfort in their own way. For some, changes in behavior are the most evident display of their feelings and attitudes. Some behavioral changes and habits closely associated with depression may appear as follows: 

  • Neglect of responsibilities and self-care 
  • Withdrawing from family and friends & isolating oneself 
  • The decline in day-to-day ability to function, being confused, worried, and agitated
  • Inability to find pleasure in any activity 
  • Difficulty getting motivated in the morning
  • Behaving out of character 
  • Denial of depressive feelings as a defense mechanism 

Emotional

There is hardly another stage of life where change is more evident than as we reach our later years. It is no surprise that recognizing these changes will take their toll on our emotions and feelings about life. As these perceptions shift, one may find oneself succumbing to uneasy feelings like:

  • Moodiness or irritability, which may present as angry or aggressive
  • Sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness 
  • Overwhelmed 
  • Feeling worthless or guilty 
  • Regret and shame for how things have turned out in life

Cognitive

The decline of mental faculties is another natural part of the aging process. However, recognizing and managing these changes from subtle to apparent is essential to help one embrace age with grace rather than falling into a state of depression. Common cognitive risks of depression can appear as follows:

  • Indecisiveness 
  • Loss of self-esteem 
  • Persistent suicidal thoughts 
  • Negative comments like ‘I’m a failure, ‘It’s my fault,’ or ‘Life is not worth living
  • Excessive concerns about the financial situation 
  • Perceived change of status within the family 
  • Memory problems

Physical

As we age, there is no denying that our bodies and physical abilities will change. How we respond and accept these changes as we age will be unique from one person to another. Some physical changes that may impact one’s outlook on life include:

  • Sleeping more or less than usual 
  • Feeling tired all the time 
  • Slowed movement and limited mobility 
  • Unexplained headaches, backache, pain, or similar complaints
  • Digestive upsets, nausea, changes in bowel habits 
  • Agitation, hand wringing, pacing 
  • Loss or change of appetite 
  • Significant weight loss (or gain) 

Circumstantial

Complications associated with aging may contribute to depression in older people. These problems can include:

  • Facing mortality 
  • Transitioning from work to retirement 
  • Financial hardships 
  • Prolonged substance abuse 
  • Deaths of friends and loved ones 
  • Widowhood or divorce 
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • History of depression in the family

Treatments for Depression in the Elderly

Effective treatment of depression in older adults can require more than one approach.

Psychotherapy

For older people, ongoing conversation therapy can be a source of comfort. Short-term solution-focused therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can also help older individuals reduce thought patterns and behaviors that lead to depressive symptoms. According to research, implementing changes for elderly patients, such as addressing physical health and religious/spiritual convictions, enhances treatment success. 

Support groups

Groups designed to connect older people experiencing similar issues (depression, medical conditions, grief, etc.) are beneficial in establishing social support and providing a safe space to talk. 

Medication

Antidepressants can be taken to alleviate depression symptoms. Antidepressants can have serious adverse effects, and elderly individuals are more susceptible to treatment. Medication must be carefully monitored. 

Medications you might get include: 

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft) 
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and venlafaxine (Effexor) 
  • Serotonin modulators and stimulators (SMS), including vilazodone (Viibryd) and vortioxetine (Trintellix) 
  • Atypical antidepressants, such as bupropion (Aplenzin, Wellbutrin), mirtazapine (Remeron), and trazodone (Oleptro ER) 
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), like isocarboxazid (Marplan), phenelzine (Nardil), selegiline (Eldepryl, Emsam, Zelapar), and tranylcypromine (Parnate) 

Lifestyle changes

Daily exercise, healthy eating habits, and increasing social support are essential in helping elderly patients with depression. Friends and family members can benefit by doing the following: 

  • Schedule group outings 
  • Establish a weekly visit 
  • Assist with transportation to medical appointments
  • Cook and freeze healthy meals for easy preparation 
  • Help create a system to make it easier to take the medication regularly. 

Can Depression Be Prevented?

Many question if depression can be avoided and how they might reduce their chances of developing depression. Although most episodes of depression cannot be avoided, healthy lifestyle modifications can benefit long-term mental health. 

Preventive activities:

  • Be physically active
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Some diets, including the low-sodium DASH diet, have been shown to reduce the risk of depression. 
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. 
  • Stay in touch with friends and family. 
  • Participate in activities you enjoy. 
  • Let friends, family, and your physician know when you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. 

Conclusion:

Depression is a severe health condition that affects millions of people across the world. Diagnosis isn’t always easy, but proper treatment can improve your quality of life. If you’re concerned that someone you know may be depressed, take in mind the following information about depression among older people. Know that family and loved ones can profoundly affect an older adult’s care. Encourage treatment and offer support to help your loved one live a full, happy life.

Author: Kinda Frugal

Expertise: Money, entertainment, family, and travel.

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