Recognizing Depression in Older People

Depression can affect people of any age, but it is much more common in older people. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry estimates about one-quarter of older people examined by healthcare professionals have some level of depression. If you have had a doctor’s exam recently, you may have noticed that the doctor or his staff asked a few quick questions about your frame of mind, and depending on age, they also give a mini mental evaluation relating to memory. Depression is a chemical change that affects individuals, as happens with other illnesses. It can happen at any age to anyone, but without treatment its effects can be debilitating.

Nevertheless, depression often goes unnoticed in the elder population and even if it is noticed, proper treatment is not a sure thing. Without treatment, the consequences can significantly degrade the elder’s ability to perform normal activities of daily living which leads to a negative impact on a person’s overall health. For example, if depression prevents a person from performing good hygiene, the result could be a urinary tract infection, which in the elderly can then have severe effects, such as falling or irrational behavior.

The key to addressing the symptoms of depression is to recognize the signs. The signs are often missed or overlooked because of an assumption that it’s just part of getting older. Physical problems may not be associated with depression. Lack of communication can be a sign, especially if there is a significant decrease from a lifelong pattern. Isolation from others can sometimes be confused with true depression. Here is a list of some common symptoms: feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or guilt or despair, sadness, losing interest in hobbies, lack of energy and motivation, restlessness or slow movement, difficulty with concentration, neglecting personal care and poor sleep. The stigma associated with these feelings often prevent a loved one from asking for help. It is important to remember that depression, like any disease, happens to a person. Bad things can happen to good people.

Steps that can help alleviate the symptoms of depression can include therapy to help overcome stressful life events, such as a loss of a spouse. If symptoms warrant it, a doctor’s evaluation and medication may be appropriate to help with dark mood swings. An assessment by a gerontologist or other medical specialists could be critical. There are steps a person can take on their own to help their mood stay positive, such as staying active, or learning a new skill, or joining a support group. Lots of sunlight can help ones mood. Medical people may also recommend reducing refined sugars in the diet, or avoiding alcohol. If a person is so inclined, getting a pet may provide a companion and could be a great mood enhancement especially if the person had pets earlier in life. We have two cats who require various levels of care or attention. It’s my job to take care of the litter box, so every day there is a feeling of satisfaction on raking it out. Sometimes that feeling of satisfaction even outweighs the feeling of “Oh brother, I have to do this every day?”

Regardless, the first step is understanding depression. It is not a sign of mental weakness. It can happen to anyone at any age. Sad events in life can naturally make anyone feel depressed, but long term clinical depression is serious and both medical and other measures should be taken to lessen the long term effects and deterioration that depression can cause.

Attorneys Stephen O. and Halley C. Allaire are partners in the law firm of Allaire Elder Law.
Attorneys Stephen O. and Halley C. Allaire are members of the National Academy of Elder Law. Attorneys, Inc.
Allaire Elder Law is a highly respected, and highly rated law firm with offices in Bristol, CT.
We can be contacted by phone at (860) 259-1500 or by email.

If you have a question, send a written note to us and we may use your question in a future column.

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