TMH Living Well: Depression common in seniors

The Memorial Hospital

Seniors especially are prone to depression, and loss often is 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 that we love. Add on 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, here 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 that they feel sad or depressed. This is especially true for older men, who have the highest suicide rate in the nation. White men age 85 and older 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 way 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 with 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 medicines, such as antidepressants and serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often are 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 exercise: Exercise is a great way to lift spirits and help older people regain confidence and strength. Check out exercise classes through the Visiting Nurse Association’s Aging Well program, which provides a variety of levels of fitness classes for older adults at The Journey, Sunset Meadows and Hampton Inn and Suites in Craig and the Haven Community Center in Hayden. Classes also are available in Oak Creek, Yampa and Steamboat Springs. Costs range from a $3 donation for movement and exercise classes to $6 for the aquatics class. Visit or call 970-824-2548 for more information.

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 of 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 The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

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