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Depression in Mature Adults and the Elderly

on Thu, 01/09/2014 - 05:46

Depression in Mature Adults and the Elderly

Adults in their senior years undergo lifestyle changes that frequently result in depression or depressive behavior. Increased feelings of isolation, a lack of self-worth following retirement, poor personal health and bereavements are frequent triggers that result in depression among mature adults and the elderly. Research from the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation indicates that depression affects over six million of 40 million people over the age of 65 in the United States. Once the condition strikes, individuals may suffer from sleep deprivation, a loss of appetite, low energy levels and a further deterioration in health that worsens the physical and mental condition.

It would be wrong to regard the condition as part of the ageing process. Studies into the treatment of depression are ongoing and the available programs and medications help control depression and serve to improve the quality of life for those who suffer from it. Within any calendar year, depression affects two million individuals in the elderly age group. The real key to treating depression in the elderly is to identify the symptoms early in order to overcome them.

Missing the Signs of Depression

When the elderly suffer from depression, the visible symptoms typical among younger generations are often less apparent. A lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, loss of energy and the sheer struggle of making it through the day usually go unnoticed or families may pass off these important signals as merely being a sign of ageing. Sufferers often reach the same conclusions and dismiss depression as the root cause of these overbearing symptoms.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reveals startling statistics on untreated or undiagnosed depression. Suicide has its highest rate among white American men over 65 years of age. Even when they find the confidence to reach out for help, 20% commit suicide on the first day they see a doctor while 40% die in the same week and 70% die in the same month. While the elderly are confident enough to seek treatment for other ailments and conditions, the stigma attached to depression means that they are less likely to seek the help that they need and as these statistics indicate, the results are often disastrous. The same research indicates that elderly women are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression, usually because of biological changes or the through the stress of providing care for their loved ones.

Although there is a tendency to overlook depression in older adults and the elderly on a basis of age alone, other circumstances contribute to our lack of understanding. Isolation, in particular, leads to fewer people identifying depression and in turn, this only serves to worsen the condition. It is easy to attribute physical complaints to age rather than depression and, importantly, the elderly come from a generation where they perceive depression as a weakness and this makes them reluctant to talk about it or to seek the help that they need.

The Causes of Depression in the Elderly

The symptoms of depression in older adults are markedly different from those younger people experience and we must never dismiss them as just a part of growing older. In the US, 80% of older adults suffer from at least one chronic medical condition while over half suffer from two or more. Severe pain, a decline in cognitive response and physical disabilities all contribute to depressive behavior. Health issues induce other concerns, such as the fear of dying, and may cause anxiety over financial arrangements that ultimately lead to depressive behavior. The prospect of living alone, relocation, age-related deaths within social circles and a lack of mobility also contribute to depressive symptoms. The recently retired, in particular, feel a lack of purpose and a loss of identity that leaves them feeling more isolated than at any previous stage of their lives. The death of a spouse, a friend, a family member or even a pet only contributes further to the inevitable feelings of helplessness. Depression is often missed if there is no family history of the condition. PMC archives listed by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health indicate direct links between early onset depression and late onset depression when there is an implication of genetically influenced disorder. Those who only suffer from late onset depression are at greater risk of being overlooked by other family members who fail to recognize the symptoms.

Grief and Depression

Differentiating between the effects of grief and depression is understandably difficult but not impossible. Adults encounter and deal with grief more frequently as they grow older and the symptoms of grief share many similarities with the symptoms of depression. Both are emotional roller coasters but during grieving, brief moments of happiness are far from unusual. With depression, the anxiety, despair and emptiness are constant factors in one’s life. Sadly, the elderly are often left to cope alone during these frightening and isolating periods of life. Only one in ten actively seeks treatment for depression.

There are other differentials between grief and depression to consider. Although there are no time restraints on how long periods of grieving might last, a sense of balance eventually prevails where fleeting moments of happiness find their way into daily routines. Depression is more likely the cause if an older adult undergoes intense feeling of guilt, suicidal thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, an inability to undertake the most basic of daily routines or even seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there.

Until the symptoms of depression have been identified and professionally diagnosed, helping an elderly person to tackle their feelings of sadness and worthiness might include encouragement to participate in family or social events, planning and preparing healthier meals and encouraging sufferers to complete prescription courses for other chronic ailments.


Written by Eve Pearce

This article was created by Eve Pearce and her views/accuracy of the article is that of her own.