Clinical depression among elderly people is common in the U.S., affecting about six million Americans 65 and older. Yet only 10 percent of those affected with geriatric depression receive treatment. Often, the signs of geriatric depression are confused with the effects of multiple illnesses and the medicines used to treat them.
That can make treating depression in the elderly tricky. Depression impacts older folks differently than younger people, typically lasting longer than it does in younger folks. With the elderly, it can reduce a person’s ability to rehabilitate and get better. Studies of nursing home patients with physical illnesses have shown that depression substantially increases the likelihood of death from illnesses or other conditions and also increases the risks of suicide, especially among elderly white men.
A primary care doctor can use a series of standard questions to provide an effective screening for depression, allowing for better diagnosis and treatment. Some symptoms or personal history they might look for include:
Insomnia. Recent studies reveal that insomnia is a risk factor for depression onset and recurrence, particularly in the elderly. Geriatric experts often favor treating insomnia with melatonin or other mild antidepressants.
Loss of social support. Advancing age is often accompanied by a loss of social support systems due to the death of a spouse or siblings, retirement, or relocation of residence.
Slowing down. Because many elderly people are expected to slow down, doctors and family might miss the signs of depression. As a result, effective treatment often gets delayed, forcing the elderly to struggle unnecessarily with depression.
Risk factors of depression in the elderly include:
- Being single, unmarried, divorced or widowed
- Lack of a supportive social network
- Stressful life events
- Certain medicines or combinations of medicines
- Damage to body image (from amputation, cancer surgery, or heart attack)
- Fear of death
- Presence of chronic or severe pain
- Recent loss of a loved one
There are several treatment options for depression, including medicine, psychotherapy or counseling, electroconvulsive therapy or newer forms of brain stimulation. The option a doctor might recommend depends on the severity of symptoms, past treatments, and other medical conditions.
If your loved one is showing signs of being depressed, encourage them to see a mental health professional. From there, BrightStar Care® can begin supporting your loved one. One of our RNs will perform a comprehensive screening of all aspects of his or her life, and create a personalized plan of care that can include psychological approaches, as well as physical and functional.
Relationships between caregivers and clients are vital at BrightStar Care, and we'll make certain your loved ones do not face depression alone.