Recognizing Elderly Depression

 In Senior Care

Recognizing Elderly Depression

O

pening a dialogue on elderly depression is the first step in creating awareness of how common this problem has become. As the older adult population continues to rapidly grow, the need for mental health services for this group will increase rapidly. Based on a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in older adults with one in ten older adults in primary care displaying symptoms of depression, and higher rates are found among older adults who are hospitalized or residing in a nursing home.

Late life depression affects approximately six million Americans 65 and older. However, only a small percentage of this number receives treatment. This is due in large part to the way in which the older adult population displays their symptoms, which can be confused for either other illnesses or side effects of medications. Early recognition, diagnosis and treatment can help to ensure elderly depression does not define the later years of one’s life.

According to SAMHSA, older adults can become more vulnerable to depression due to many of the health and lifestyle changes that accompany growing older. Common risk factors for depression in older adults include:

  • Changes in physical health or functioning (e.g., presence of a new or chronic physical disorder or sensory impairment)
  • Changes in mental health (e.g., changes in medication or cognitive impairment)
  • Changes in circumstances or social support (e.g., retirement, or other income changes, or recent loss of a loved one)

It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in order to make informed choices regarding treatment. As defined by the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of depression can include:

  • Depressed mood most of the time
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Disturbed sleep (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Weight loss or gain (changes in appetite)
  • Fatigue or a lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or extreme guilt
  • Difficulties with concentration or decision making
  • Noticeable restlessness (agitation) or slow movement
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide, or an attempt of suicide

Without treatment, the symptoms of depression can last for years and inhibit an older adult’s ability to age happily and healthily. According to the World Health Organization, depression is among the top causes of worldwide disability and is associated with decreased ability to rehabilitate, worsening health status and reduced quality of life. Because signs of elderly depression can be under-recognized, and therefore under-treated, it can be beneficial to consult a practitioner who is experienced in working with older adults. There are several treatments that can reduce the symptoms of depression for most older people.

In addition to any medication or therapies prescribed by your doctor, there are other adjustments to activities of daily living that can have a positive impact (when approved by your doctor). Exercise is a great mood booster and does not have to be strenuous; exercise can even be done while sitting in a chair. Other lifestyle adjustment options include getting plenty of rest, maintaining a healthy diet, enjoying activities or hobbies, taking care of a pet, learning something new, volunteering and even just laughing more.

Care providers should report any depressive symptoms or changes in condition to their supervisors to ensure appropriate measures are taken to address the potential for depression. The SAMHSA estimates that health care costs for older adults with depression are approximately 50 percent higher than for older adults without depression. Depression education and appropriate treatments are essential for a reduction in depressive symptoms, and therefore, in some instances, the overall cost of health care.

Providers, like Addus HomeCare, who understand the need for real time reporting and regular education can assist in the steps that combat depression and minimize hospitalization. Caregivers not only provide much needed companionship and social support, but they can be the lead in preventing a client from a downward spiral and aid in monitoring healthy aging.

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