Memorial Regional Health Living Well: Depression common in seniors — Loss of independence, ability mount as people age
Seniors are especially prone to depression, and loss is often the reason. As we age, we lose our independence, our ability to get around physically, our good health, our sense of purpose, and most significantly, people we love. Add a natural decrease in neurotransmitters that help stabilize our moods, such as serotonin and dopamine, and it’s easy to see why we might become depressed as we age. If you have an elderly loved one, following are some signs to watch for and suggestions on how to manage depression.
Signs of depression among older people
While young people who are depressed may cry or be vocal about their feelings, older people tend to be more stoic, even to the point of denying they feel sad or depressed. This is especially true for older men, who have the highest suicide rate in the nation. White men older than age 85 commit suicide at a rate six times that of the general population. Strangely, suicide often occurs within a day, week, or month of a doctor’s visit — especially one that reveals a challenging diagnosis. This is a key time to tune in and watch for signs of depression, including mood swings, anger outbursts, irritability, and isolation.
Sometimes, the easiest thing to notice is a change in sleeping or eating habits. Grief is normal for at least a year after the death of a significant other, but grief that doesn’t seem to lessen over time may be a sign that your loved one needs help.
How you can help
• Get an evaluation: Studies show that talk therapy is less effective for older people, while medications, such as antidepressants and serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are often more effective in those older than age 70. If you suspect your loved one is depressed, set up an appointment with his or her doctor or a mental health professional for an evaluation.
• Create opportunities for activities and exercise: Exercise is a great way to lift spirits and help older people regain confidence and strength. Check out exercise classes through Craig’s Senior Social Center, which provides a variety of levels of fitness classes for older adults. The Senior Social Center also has a pickleball league and other group activities. For more information, visit the Senior Social Center page at seniorsocialcenter.org, or call 970-326-3188.
• Manage medications: It’s commonplace for older people to take several medicines for various reasons. How all these medicines react is not completely known. Certain medicines may cause depression, including steroids, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines. Rule out side effects of medicines or medicine interactions, and advocate with his or her doctor as needed.
• Instill a sense of purpose: Feelings of loss need to be countered with opportunities for accomplishment and genuine appreciation. If your grandmother was a realtor, ask for suggestions on improving your home. If your father was a rancher or farmer, ask him to help plan your spring garden. Encourage new hobbies that relate to their skills, and go on outings that feed their interests. Finally, let them be of service to you and others.
The good news is that elderly people tend to respond better to treatment, once depression is identified. Yet, untreated, depression increases the chance for illness and a move to a nursing home. With your support, they can manage their depression and enjoy their later years.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by Memorial Regional Health.