According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, almost 19% of Americans over the age of 65 suffer from depression. Clinical depression is a form of mental illness and not something people want to readily talk about. Some people may have previously experienced depression at various times during their life and others may just be experiencing it for the first time. This could be due to losing their independence or other major life changes and transitions that occur as people age. Many times this depression goes untreated because an older person may view it as a weakness or assume that depression is a normal part of aging. Other times, the symptoms go undetected or undiagnosed and are often thought to be symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, not clinical depression.
There is a wide range of symptoms as a result of depression in the elderly, such as problems with memory, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, social withdrawal along with confusion or possible hallucinations. Many elderly people that are suffering from undiagnosed depression will persistently complain about various aches and pains or become more demanding in the way they behave. They also may be seeking more help than usual as a way of acting out or reaching out. These symptoms are all actions and reactions that can be confused with the normal aging process, which can prevent seniors from seeking treatment.
The elderly face many stressors and major life changes as they age; loss of loved ones, leaving their long time home, illnesses and lack of independence. It is normal to have periods of grief and sadness, but when this grief and sadness lasts for months at a time, it is time to seek medical intervention. While elderly people will seek treatment for physical illnesses, they often won’t seek treatment for depression or mental illness.
Depression is the most compelling indicator for suicide in the senior population. According to NAMI, “many of those people who go on to die by suicide have reached out for help” 20 percent see a doctor the day they die, 40 percent the week they die and 70 percent in the month they die. Yet depression is frequently missed. There is substantial evidence that treatment for depression in the elderly is effective and can actually change the way their brain works. Studies indicate that once an elderly person is clinically diagnosed with depression, there is an 80% success rate with treatment.
There are a wide variety of treatments available today through medications, electroconvulsive therapy or psychotherapy. These treatments can be prescribed individually or a combination of treatments may be prescribed along with some lifestyle changes. Clinical depression is a chronic illness so getting well is only the start. Staying well in the long term is the ultimate goal.
At Senior Care Centers, we understand that part of this process is the psychosocial aspect and that an adequate support system is critical to the success of treatment of depression. Our staff understands how to identify symptoms of depression, how to make sure treatment and medications are being maintained, and how to engage our seniors in social activities, all in an effort to keep our residents in their best possible mental and physical health.