Recognizing and Fighting Depression in Seniors
In the oft quoted words of Kenny Wayne Shepherd: “Everyone gets the blues.” Temporary feelings of sadness, commonly referred to as “the blues,” usually last only a day or two, and are not a cause for concern. But when a loved one seems stuck in the same sad mood for a longer period of time, it may be something more serious, such as depression.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a depressed mood may have turned into the illness known as depression when it interferes with daily life and causes pain, not only to the person suffering, but to the people who love them as well. While seniors are at a higher risk for depression, the good news is that there are several therapies and medications that can effectively treat the disease.
Should you be concerned for your loved one? First, see if they have any of these common risk factors.
• Family history
• Previous episodes of depression
• Stress, such as the loss of a spouse, social isolation and financial worries
• Certain other medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease
• Some medications – check with a medical professional to see if any of your loved one’s medications may cause depression
Below is a list of common symptoms of depression as provided by the NIH. If your loved one is exhibiting one or more of these behaviors, speak with them and their doctor about your concerns.
• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
• Irritability, restlessness
• Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
• Fatigue and decreased energy
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
• Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
• Overeating, or appetite loss
• Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
• Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
Don’t put off bringing your concerns to a doctor, especially if any of the risk factors are present. Studies have shown that depression can exacerbate the symptoms of certain medical conditions and make treatment more prolonged and difficult. Conversely, getting treatment for depression has been shown in some cases to help improve a co-occurring medical illness.
In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help. Talk to your loved one, listening carefully to their concerns, and offer your support. Be patient and understanding — seniors sometimes have difficulty communicating that can lead to feelings of frustration and isolation. Include them: invite them for a walk, or to go on an outing. Bring in a meal to share. Remind them that there is treatment available to help. Assist them is getting to see a doctor or mental health professional.
For more information, including a more comprehensive list of signs and symptoms, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health section of the NIH website: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/older-adults-and-depression/index.shtml