Depression is the most undiagnosed condition among seniors
Signs of depression are often ignored because of other “more important” medical problems. Some people (including many doctors) dismiss obvious signs of depression as a “normal part of aging,” even though they aren’t.
If you or your loved one experience FIVE or more of the following signs of depression longer than two weeks, or if the depression is severe enough to interfere with daily routine, see your doctor or a qualified mental health professional. A thorough physical exam may be needed to rule out other illnesses or problems with medications.
Symptoms of depression include:
- A persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood (some people describe the mood as “black”)
- Sleeping too little (insomnia) — or sleeping too much (no motivation to get up)
- Reduced appetite and weight loss — or increased appetite and weight gain
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness — excessive worrying, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
- Angry outbursts, frustration or irritability — “hair trigger” anger, even over small matters
- Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment (headaches, chronic pain, or constipation and other digestive disorders)
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that are not your responsibility
- Thoughts of death or suicide
In the past, depression was severely stigmatized; self-denial was often carried to the extreme by sufferers of the condition. This was particularly true among men who saw it as a personal weakness — only women came down with it.
People who are elderly or disabled can be especially sensitive to depression
In addition to the “typical” ups and downs life throws at us when we are younger, people who are elderly or disabled are often faced with new challenges that can cause depression. Among these are:
- The gradual or sudden loss of physical abilities often make them feel like they are “less than a whole person.”
- The sudden onset, gradual buildup or long continuation of deep, persistent pain.
- The loss of relatives and friends.
- Taking numerous medications the side effects of which, for the elderly, can cause confusion and lethargy.
- The need to move, because of the loss of cognitive or physical abilities, from one’s home where cherished memories were formed into a much smaller room or apartment in an assisted living facility, or “heaven help me,” a nursing home.
- While a resident there, the lack of truly meaningful care focused on their own personal quality of life.
- The overwhelming feeling that you’ve been abandoned by friends and family and “are just waiting to die” while you are a resident of an assisted living facility or a nursing home.
These can all lead to despondency, a deep feeling that life is unfair, or even anger, sometimes directed at themselves — for no longer being able do everything they want — and sometimes at life in general. — “Why me?”
However, now that it is better understood, we know that it is treatable with medications — in most cases — even for people who are elderly or disabled. All we need to do is think beyond their obvious medical needs and start asking the pertinent questions about how they feel, i.e, bring in a consulting geriatric psychiatrist or psychologist. Indeed, for today’s patients, treatment results are often so dramatic that you’ll hear comments like, “Thank you for giving me my life back!”