Elderly depression is a condition that is under-diagnosed. The primary reason why doctors, caregivers, and family members don't recognize it is because the symptoms of depression are different in seniors than in younger people.
Symptoms of Depression
Common symptoms of depression are:
- Feelings of deep sadness, hopelessness, and/or worthlessness
- Lack of ability to enjoy everyday life
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low self-esteem
- Headaches, constipation, or chronic pain. In depressed individuals, these complaints tend not to respond to generalized treatment
- Changes in appetite, such as a lack of interest in food or overeating
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as a difficulty falling asleep/staying asleep or sleeping more than usual
Symptoms of Elderly Depression
- Elderly depression can also manifest the following symptoms:
- Excessive worry
- Feelings of guilt or self-blame
- Headaches or muscle pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Stomach trouble or constipation
Risk Factors for Depression
- Certain life events may put an older person at increased risk for becoming depressed. These include:
- Death of a spouse or partner
- Major illness
- Lack of social contact/shrinking circle of friends
- Senior citizens with depression are also at an increased risk for problem with alcohol abuse, due to retirement and social isolation. Incidentally, some medications are known to cause depression, and seniors tend to take more prescription medication than younger adults. Another issue is that many of the elderly don't always take their medication as prescribed.
The first step in getting help for the possibility of elderly depression is to see a physician for a complete wellness physical. If the individual is withdrawn or confused, a family member or caregiver should accompany him or her to the doctor's office. Whether the senior goes to the doctor's office alone or not, the doctor will need a detailed medical history.
Be sure to tell the doctor about all medications being taken. This includes both prescription drugs and over-the-counter products. The easiest way to deal with prescription medications may be to bring the bottles to the appointment. Depression can be caused by the medications themselves. It can also occur as the result of interactions between different medicines.
If no physical cause for the symptoms is found, then the individual should be seen by a mental health professional. The best choice is someone who specializes in the care of seniors or a health care provider who has experience treating people in this age group.