Down in the dumps, having the blues, or being woebegone are terms seniors may use when describing feelings of sadness. But depression, by any other name, is a serious illness.
Contrary to some seniors’ belief, depression is not a natural consequence of aging, and elders do not have to “get used to it.”
People aged 65 and older suffering from depression number in the millions. Unfortunately, depression in aging adults can be mistaken for dementia, as they can result in similar symptoms, including confusion, slow movements, and lack of interest in things once enjoyed. An evaluation by the senior’s primary care provider and perhaps a referral to a specially trained mental health professional can differentiate between the two.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ website, www.nami.org, other symptoms of depression include but are not limited to:
— memory problems and confusion
— social withdrawal
— loss of appetite and/or weight loss
— vague complaints of pain
— inability to sleep
— delusions (fixed false beliefs)
Some medications, cardiac conditions, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, a chemical imbalance in the brain and repressed childhood trauma can result in depression later in life, as can the loss of aging friends and family members.
Treatment for depression includes medication, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, among other options. However, the person has to be first correctly diagnosed and then agree to seek help. Seniors may shrug off their symptoms or explain them away but getting assistance can significantly improve their golden years. According to NAMI, depression that appears later in life can increase the risk of “mental illness and cognitive decline.”
Caregivers should watch for certain behaviors that could signal depression, understanding that sometimes depression can be related to the new dependency a senior has on adult children or perhaps a disability or illness. Whether seniors show it or not, most are well aware of the stress that caregiving has on the family.
The best course of action is to talk openly to a health care provider. Seniors can face numerous challenges as they age, but living with depression should not be one of them. Log on to www.nami.org for information.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.